Vermillion's Post 1 baseball team had gone 7-0 against fellow Region 3B opponents during the regular season, including a 20-13 win over rival Beresford early last week.
But in the regional tournament at Elk Point last weekend, Post 1 had to face Beresford twice, and both times Beresford used the home run ball to puncture Vermillion's dream of returning to the state "B" American Legion tournament to defend its title.
The climax came Sunday evening when Beresford won 9-6 to end Post 1's season with an 18-11 record. Earlier Vermillion had won big in three games, 13-1 in five innings over Dakota Valley and 12-2 in five innings over Elk Point-Jefferson, both on Friday. After a 13-3 seven-inning loss to Beresford Saturday, Post 1 faced elimination but whipped EPJ again Sunday, 12-2 in seven innings.
That meant Vermillion would have to defeat Beresford twice to win the regional title for the third time in four seasons. But Beresford prevailed late Sunday to end it all and advance to the state tourney in Lennox July 21-25.
Four men saw their Legion baseball careers come to an end with Sunday's loss. Brian Hansen, Grant Lueders, Kyle Nemec and Cory Taggart – all of them starters on last year's state champs as well as this year – will be past the Legion baseball age limit by the time the 2011 season arrives. Two others who graduated from high school this spring, Jason Rasmussen and Nick Anglin, were born in 1992 and thus will still be eligible for one more year of Legion ball if they choose to play.
But it seemed like the passing of an era Sunday night as the finality of the defeat began to sink in.
"They have been with us for four years now," Coach Jason Gault said, referring to Hansen, Lueders, Nemec, Taggart, Rasmussen and Anglin, and in the case of Taggart, it's been five years with the program. "I can't imagine what it is going to be like without that crew, but their hard work and talent have touched a lot of our young kids in Vermillion."
Gault said that sextet has "made it pretty easy to coach the past few years. What a fun bunch of players who play the game the right way. It's tough to see them go, but I know they are going to be successful in whatever they do."
Baseball can be a cruel sport where games, and thus tournaments, turn on individual plays. In both of the Beresford games at the regional, there were moments when it seemed that the baseball gods had determined that a Vermillion repeat championship just wasn't meant to be. To Beresford's credit, given opportunities for more than three outs in an inning, they delivered fatal blows in the clutch every time.
Post 1 applied the hammer to Dakota Valley in the first inning with six runs on four hits, two walks and a hit batter. Jason Rasmussen's infield grounder scored the first run. Kyle Nemec produced an RBI double, Zach McDonald doubled home two more scores, and Scott Iverson followed with a two-run double of his own.
Vermillion scored five times in the third. Another Iverson double drove home one score, Rasmussen doubled in a pair of tallies, and an outfield error allowed two runs to cross the plate.
A sacrifice fly by Rasmussen and a Taggart double gave Post 1 a 13-0 lead in the fourth. When Dakota Valley scored only once in the fifth, the game ended via the 10-run rule.
Brian Hansen scattered three hits over the first four innings and allowed two more in the fifth for DV's only run. He struck out five and didn't walk a batter.
Rasmussen finished with four RBIs, Iverson three and McDonald two.
Post 1 had its way with Elk Point-Jefferson in each meeting this summer, and that pattern continued Friday night as Vermillion rolled to a 12-2 win in five innings.
A monstrous home run by Kyle Nemec was the biggest of many standout offensive moments for Post 1.
In the final inning, with EPJ's outfielders pulled in to cut off a run at the plate, Grant Lueders drove a one-bounce hit off the fence that scored Nemec with the game-ending run.
Nick Anglin cruised to a full-game pitching win.
A wind-blown triple by Jordan Powell and a Zach Orr double, with a walk in between, got Beresford going in the first inning Saturday afternoon off Taggart, but Post 1 got one of those runs back in the second when Nemec walked and was doubled home by Lueders.
In the bottom of the third, however, an infield error on what would have been the final out opened the door for Beresford. Kyle Delay followed with a two-run homer, and Dan Frieberg added a solo blast up into the South Dakota jet stream for a 5-1 lead.
D'Andre Fore singled and scored on Nemec's ground-rule double in the fifth, but Beresford matched it in their half on Orr's double and a bases-loaded fielder's choice.
The game got away in the bottom of the sixth. Taggart struck out leadoff man Colin Peterson, but the ball got away on the third strike for a passed ball. Later in the inning with two out, when the inning should have been over, Delay homered again. Nate Ivarsen slugged a two-run homer of his own off reliever Lueders.
Vermillion scored once in the seventh when Scott Iverson reached on an error and scored on Taggart's single, but Beresford ended the misery quickly in the bottom of the seventh when Peterson singled and Powell homered for a 10-run 13-3 advantage.
Taggart struck out seven and walked five while allowing nine hits. Meanwhile, Frieberg kept Post 1 at bay by scattering six hits while striking out five and walking three. Lueders had two of Vermillion's six hits while five different men had two hits for Beresford.
With their season on the brink, Post 1 responded Sunday with a 12-2 seven-inning win over Elk Point-Jefferson. Tyler Husby stepped up in the do-or-die situation with a great pitching performance, allowing only two hits and striking out 12.
EPJ had a solo homer in their first inning but only one run the rest of the way while Vermillion gradually built its lead from 3-1 to 9-2 and the eventual 10-run margin.
With everyone else eliminated, Vermillion faced Beresford again Sunday evening, and bad things began to happen early. Nemec walked the first two batters, but he had the man on second base picked off easily, but a throw to second base ended up in center field, allowing one run to score. Another came in moments later on Dillon Anderson's single.
A Michael Jensen single and a bases-loaded hit batter gave Beresford a 4-0 lead in the second.
Hope was reborn for Vermillion in the fifth when, with two out, Husby blasted the ball out of the park. After Zach McDonald singled, Iverson did the same thing, and Post 1 was back in business, down by only 4-3.
Just prior to Husby's homer, Hansen had been called out on a bang-bang play at first. Third-baseman Orr had made a sensational back-handed stop of a smash off Hansen's bat, going toward the foul line. He was rewarded with his great play when the disputed out call was made at first. Had Hansen been aboard, Vermillion would have tied the score instead of still trailing by one.
It was 5-3 in the sixth when Jason Rasmussen was hit with a pitch and eventually scored on Lueders' single, bringing Vermillion back to within one. On defense in the bottom of the sixth, Rasmussen engineered a nifty inning-ending double play, snatching a ground ball, stepping on second base and firing to first.
Jensen, who had a four-hit game for Beresford, led off the fateful seventh with a single. With two out, a throw to first on Anderson's grounder was ruled to have been not yet in the first baseman's control when the batter crossed the bag, so instead of the inning being over, Beresford had two men aboard. After a walk to Orr, Delay hit a grand slam that sealed the deal with a 9-4 lead.
Vermillion got one run back in the eighth on Nemec's RBI single and another in the ninth when Husby scored on Iverson's double play ball, but reliever Frieberg retired the side to end the game and the season with Vermillion still down 9-6.
Andrew Erickson went five-plus innings for Beresford, allowing only one hit until Post 1 managed three in the three-run fifth. Powell relieved until the eighth when Frieberg came in to put the game away.
Nemec was relieved in the second by Anglin, who finished the game for Post 1. Together they gave up nine hits, and Anglin struck out two and walked three during his tenure.