Vermillion Post 1 claims region crown Team will play in state tournament in Platte By Parker Knox
Sportswriter The Region 3B championship seemed a long way off Saturday night as Vermillion's Post 1 team trudged back home from Lennox following a 12-1 thrashing at the hands of Harrisburg. Facing Post 1 was the daunting prospect of having to win four straight do-or-die elimination games, including two championship contests. But among these Post 1 kids' numerous attributes, resiliency is high on the list. As a result of capturing those four victories they needed and doing so in a span of 29 hours Monday and Tuesday nights, the Post 1 season lives on. Vermillion is the Region 3B champion and has qualified for the state Class "B" American Legion baseball tournament at Platte starting next Wednesday and running through July 26. Post 1 will join six other regional champions and the host Platte team in a double-elimination format. The first day's pairings should be known by this weekend. It is the fourth regional title and state tourney trip in this decade for Vermillion. Post 1 teams placed third at state in 2001, seventh in 2003 and seventh in 2007. Championship Game 1 Tuesday night began with Harrisburg needing only one win but Vermillion needing two. Post 1 put two men on base in the first inning with hits, and though neither scored, it set the tempo for an aggressive hitting game in which Post 1 would pound out 16 hits, including three hits in each of four different innings. Harrisburg took a 2-0 lead on a two-run single in the second, but Post 1 came right back to tie it up in the same stanza. Tyler Johnson singled, and Grant Lueders doubled. Mike Szymonski's infield grounder scored Johnson, and Sam McBride's single scored Lueders. The lead became Vermillion's for good when JR Moore led off the third with a single and later scored on Andrew Eidem's hit. Vermillion desperately needed a quality and lengthy pitching performance from Moore, and he came through. After Harrisburg's two runs in the second, Moore retired seven batters in a row and was able to retire the side with two men on base in each of the fifth and sixth innings. Post 1 expanded its 3-2 lead to 6-2 in a decisive sixth inning. Lueders' leadoff single and McBride's walk were followed by Moore's exquisitely placing a slow dribbler which stayed in fair territory down the third-base foul line. With the bases loaded and two out, Kyle Nemec delivered a two-run smash, and a wild pitch scored a third run. Harrisburg answered with a pair in the top of the seventh that cut the gap to 6-4, but Lueders's double and a timely home run to left by McBride made it 8-4, the eventual final score. A trio of crucial plays in the middle of Vermillion's strong defensive infield saved the day. The first came in the fifth when Harrisburg had men on first and second with two out. Shortstop Rasmussen, fielding a ground ball, alertly fired to third-baseman Hansen to nail the advancing runner and end the threat. The next came when Moore ran into a jam in the seventh. Harrisburg scored once on a walk and a double. Jordan Budde's single scored another run, and he attempted to reach second base. But left-fielder Szymonski fielded the ball off the fence, fired it to Rasmussen who made the quickest flip of the ball from glove to throwing hand that you will ever see and fired to McBride to nab Budde at second base, a demoralizing end to that Tiger rally. Finally in the top of the ninth after Harrisburg put the first two batters on with a single and a walk off reliever Lueders, Tyler "Perfect Game" Johnson came in from his center-field spot to take the mound, and things couldn't have worked out more perfectly. Spencer Ferguson hit a soft line drive to Rasmussen, who pivoted and threw to McBride to double off the runner there. With Harrisburg down to its last out, an infield grounder went to — who else — Rasmussen, who was close enough to second base to step on the bag for the force that ended the game and forced another contest. All nine Post 1 players had at least one of the team's 16 hits — Lueders had three, and the top five men in the order (McBride, Rasmussen, Moore, Nemec and Eidem) had two each. McBride had three RBIs, Nemec two, and Eidem and Szymonski one each. During his seven innings of work, starter Moore struck out four and walked only one. While Harrisburg managed nine hits off him, Moore bore down each time the Tigers threatened and left six men stranded. Championship Game 2 With Nemec slated to start on the hill for Post 1 in the finale, Post 1 knew he could pitch only 5 1/3 innings due to Legion baseball's limit of 12 innings per pitcher in a three-day period. So it was important both that Vermillion get a lead and Nemec keep Harrisburg under control. Mission accomplished on both counts! The loose Post 1 crew, sensing momentum had swung in their favor with their earlier win, asserted themselves from the start. Before there was even one out, leadoff men McBride and Rasmussen had created a run. McBride reached on an error, stole second and kept running when the Tiger catcher threw the ball into center field, and scored on Rasmussen's hit. "J-Ras" himself was brought in by Eidem's base knock. McBride, who scored four times in this game, doubled with two out in the second, advanced a base on Rasmussen's hit and scored on a wild pitch. Then came the fateful third when leadoff walks coaxed off starter Jordan Budde by Nemec and Eidem were followed by Johnson's sacrifice bunt. Hansen was hit with a pitch to load the sacks. Lueders' single scored one, Szymonski's hit plated two more, and a passed ball accounted for yet another run. Rasmussen got credit for an RBI the painful way — by being hit with a pitch — but pain never felt so good. A sixth run in the inning came home on Nemec's sacrifice fly. With a 9-0 lead and Harrisburg's body language and absence of pitching acuity showing the game was already over, Vermillion tried to reach the magic 10-run lead when Eidem tripled to lead off the fourth, but he was stranded at third. Post 1 had two men on base in the fifth but couldn't get that 10-run advantage. Nemec finished his masterful 5 1/3 innings in the top of the sixth, leaving the mound after striking out five, walking one and scattering five hits. Moore got his second pitching call of the evening and promptly got Harrisburg's cleanup hitter on a called third strike and then an outfield fly to end the top of the sixth. Post 1 got its 10-0 lead on a walk to Johnson and a hit by Lueders, so it was necessary then only for Harrisburg to be retired in order in the top of the seventh. As luck would have it, they got a run to make it 10-1. But it took no time at all for Vermillion to put an end to its amazing 29 hours of baseball. Almost anybody in the ballpark knew that McBride, leading off the bottom of the seventh with the 10-run rule in effect, would reach base. He did just that on a single, stole second and was sacrificed to third by Rasmussen. Harrisburg ordered intentional walks to Moore and Nemec to load the bases, but that strategy, probably the only one available to Harrisburg at that point, nevertheless backfired when Eidem walked with the bases jammed to win the game, 11-1, via the 10-run rule. Of Vermillion's 11 hits, Rasmussen had three while McBride, Szymonski, Lueders and Eidem had two each. Rasmussen, Szymonski, Lueders and Eidem also had two RBIs apiece. The infield defense again sparkled. Shortstop Rasmussen was involved in four force plays at second base in addition to a beautiful double play from pitcher Nemec to Rasmussen to first-baseman Lueders in the fifth and a shortstop-to-second-to-first twin killing in the seventh. On a night when Post 1 faced the challenge of having to twice defeat the team that had 10-runned them on Saturday, the stars aligned. Quality pitching starts by Moore and Nemec, dependable relief pitching efforts, flawless defense, and a you-can't-shut-us-down offensive attack that produced 19 runs and 27 hits gave the Post 1 players the chance to pose for post-game photos with their newest piece of hardware, the Region 3 championship trophy. Earlier Games After a fortunate rain-out of Sunday's second day of play which swelled the Post 1 pitching staff's availability for the rugged four-game stretch ahead, Vermillion, to reach championship night, had to first win twice on Monday. Post 1 handled Elk Point, 6-2, then had to take the field right away to tackle host Lennox. That game seesawed back and forth and, to make matters worse, featured a one-hour rain delay. But the score was still tied at 4-4 when Vermillion came to bat in the bottom of the ninth. A hustling Grant Lueders set the game-winning rally into motion when he beat out an infield hit. Then Mike Szymonski stroked his most crucial basehit of the season solidly up the middle. Sam McBride advanced the runners to third and second, respectively, with one out. Jason Rasmussen was walked intentionally to load the bases and set up force plays at any base, but a ball put into play by JR Moore was mishandled by the Lennox second-baseman, and his throw to the plate was too late to nab Lueders, who danced across the dish with the winning run, sending Post 1 into championship night. McBride and Kyle Nemec had home runs Monday, and ironically Tyler Johnson, who started one game and relieved in the other, was the winning pitcher in both. Vermillion had opened the tournament Saturday morning with a resounding 14-4 victory over Dakota Valley. Post 1 faced a 3-1 deficit after one inning and 4-1 after two, but Kyle Nemec, in relief of starter Nick Anglin, shut out Dakota Valley the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Vermillion soared from behind with five runs each in the third and fourth innings and three in the bottom of the seventh to end the game via the 10-run mercy rule. Despite the lopsided score, each team recorded seven basehits. With that win Vermillion moved into the second round but lost in five innings by a 12-1 count to Harrisburg, a team it had defeated in the teams' two regular-season meetings. It didn't seem at all certain at that point that those two ballclubs would meet again, but they did twice! — and the result was a total reversal. The only downer from the tournament was a painful finger injury on Cory Taggart's glove hand Saturday that kept him sidelined for the team's four Monday and Tuesday games. Post 1 fans can only hope that he's a fast healer. Regular Season Post 1 completed a 22-6 regular season with wins last week over Freeman-Menno, 5-0, and Yankton, 8-7. Another game, the nightcap of the Freeman doubleheader, had to be canceled due to rain with the score tied 2-2 in the eighth inning. The highlight of the week, if not the season, was Tyler Johnson's perfect game in the 5-0 seven-inning win over Freeman-Menno. Johnson, improving his season's record to 6-2, needed only 61 pitches to masterfully mow down the visitors' 21 batters and, in doing so, keep the basepaths clear the whole time. He struck out eight along the way. In the regular-season windup at Yankton last Wednesday, Post 1 needed a baserunner as it came to bat in the top of the seventh and the score tied 7-7. Leadoff man Sam McBride solved that problem by reaching second base on a double. He later scored on Cory Taggart's RBI single with what proved to be the winning run in an 8-7 thriller. Yankton had tied the game with four runs in the bottom of the eighth, but thanks to McBride and Taggart, the tied score was short-lived. Yankton made it far too interesting in the bottom of the seventh, putting the tying run at second and the winning run at first with two out, but could not score. Brian Hansen's RBI single started a three-run Vermillion second, and Grant Lueders followed with a single of his own that scored two. After Yankton tied the game at 3-3, Vermillion went ahead 4-3 and added three in the fifth for a 7-3 advantage. Taggart had three singles in all and scored twice in addition to driving in the winning run.