A year ago the Vermillion and Yankton high school baseball teams managed to find a sunny day and a semi-dry field during the month of March and were able to play their season-opening game on schedule despite the ongoing threat of winter weather.
The same two teams will try it again this Sunday when the Tanagers are slated to visit Yankton's Riverside Park for a 1 p.m. lidlifter on the high school season.
Last year Coach Jason Gault's Tanagers with a veteran senior-laden roster saw their season end just one game shy of the state "B" semifinals on Memorial Day. That same team, playing as Vermillion's Post 1 American Legion team, went on through the summer to capture the state "B" Legion championship.
This spring Gault's VHS team will see seven of the nine starting positions available to newcomers. The only starters back from 2009 are Jason Rasmussen, who earned All-Region honors at shortstop while he batted .444, and Brian Hansen, All-Region honorable mention third-baseman, who hit for a .382 average.
"We will rely heavily on young, yet inexperienced players who succeeded at the Teener level last summer," said Gault, who will be assisted with the VHS team by Bill Settles and Reid Meierkort.
Other players returning from last spring's Tanager club are pitcher Nick Anglin, infielder/pitcher Sam Ekstrom and outfielder Denny Kainrath. As young players to watch out for this year, Gault lists Tyler Husby, Zach McDonald, Robert Osterberg and D'Andre Fore.
Gault said his pitching staff will be led by Husby, Anglin and Ekstrom. Defensively the coach is counting on Rasmussen to anchor the defense with his leadership from the shortstop position.
"Offensively many new faces will be expected to put the ball in play and move runners around the bases," Gault said.
"As always our goal is to put ourselves in a situation to win the game in the late innings," Gault added. "That means minimizing errors, being aggressive on the basepaths, putting the ball in play and throwing strikes. By effectively controlling those factors, VHS should be able to compete with our region opponents."
The South Dakota High School Baseball Association has again assigned Vermillion to the East Division of Region 1-B along with Beresford, Bon Homme and Dakota Valley. Placed in the West Division of the same region are Parkston and three co-op teams – Wagner/Avon, Corsica/Stickney/Armour, and Mount Vernon/Ethan/Hanson/ Woonsocket.
SDHSBA rules mandate that a team play each opponent within its own division twice and each team from the other division in the same region once for seeding purposes. At season's end the playoffs begin with Seed 4 playing Seed 1 and Seed 3 playing Seed 2 in the East Division semifinals. The division winner later meets the West Division winner for a berth in the state semifinals at Lennox on Memorial Day.
Sunday's schedule at Yankton calls for the varsity Tanagers and Bucks to get it going at 1 p.m. A JV doubleheader is scheduled for 3 and 5 p.m.
Next Thursday, April 1, the Tanagers go to Dakota Valley High School for a varsity game at 5 p.m. and a JV contest at 7. Vermillion will continue on the road at Parkston on Easter Monday, April 5, with the JVs playing at 2 p.m. and the varsity at 4 p.m.
Opening home games at Prentis Park will see the Tanagers hosting Mount Vernon for a varsity twinbill at 2 p.m. April 11, followed by a JV game at 6 p.m. The next day Dakota Valley will come to town for games at 5 and 7 p.m.