State tournament, here we come!
That's what Vermillion's VFW 15-16 Teeners were saying as they celebrated their Region 1B championship on the infield at North Sioux City last Friday night.
Vermillion whipped Dakota Valley, 19-0, in a three-inning first-round contest last Tuesday, then emerged from a nail-biting 7-6 winners' bracket match-up with Beresford, and finally faced Beresford again in the championship game, claiming the title with a 3-0 decision.
The Teeners, coached by Bill Settles and Reid Meierkort, will open state tourney play against Chamberlain at 2:30 p.m. today (Friday) at Wagner. The Vermillion team knows they can beat Chamberlain because they've done it once this summer. The two teams clashed in a tournament at Mitchell in June with Vermillion winning 4-3. Vermillion has also faced two other tourney teams—host Wagner, losing to them in a Yankton tourney 6-2, and Harrisburg, defeating them 3-1.
The other quarterfinal pairings today pit Groton against Garretson at noon, Flandreau vs. Milbank at 5:30 and Harrisburg vs. Wagner at 8. Losers' bracket games will be at noon and 2:30 Saturday with the semifinals to follow at 5:30 and 8. On Sunday there will be a fifth-place game at noon, a third-place game at 3, and the championship game at 6.
In the 17 innings of the regional, Vermillion pitchers Nate Garrett, Collin Bertram and Chayse Meierkort struck out a combined 19 batters, walked eight and allowed 11 hits. Meanwhile, the champions banged out 21 hits.
Tanner Anderson batted .556 (five hits in nine at-bats) in the three games, and Caleb Miller hit .500 (four for eight). Bertram, Meierkort, Garrett, Mitch Brown and Cody Sommervold each had two hits, and Tanner Settles and Joe Mazour each hit safely once. Settles, however, scored six times, Brown five, Meierkort and Bertram four each, Anderson three, Miller two, Garrett two, Cody Olson two and Sommervold once. Miller was the RBI leader with six while Brown drove in five runs, Anderson three, Garrett two, and Mazour, Settles, Meierkort and Bertram one apiece.
The national anthem prior to Friday's championship game ended with fireworks set off by the Dakota Valley tournament hosts. For the two hours that followed, Beresford batters were frustrated by the Roman candles being fired toward home plate by Nate Garrett.
Garrett, who had pitched all three innings of Vermillion's 19-0 opening-night win over Dakota Valley, allowing only one hit and one walk, continued his streak of shutout innings as he stepped up big-time to lead the Teeners to the regional title in a 3-0 complete-game whitewashing of Beresford.
A fielder's choice followed by two walks put Garrett in a precarious position in the top of the first, but he slipped a called third strike past Derek Wiebers to end Beresford's first and last threat.
Beresford hurler Hayden Palmer got Vermillion in order in its half of the first, but after Garrett got Beresford 1-2-3 in the second, the only runs Vermillion would need were produced in the bottom half of that stanza.
Chayse Meierkort worked a leadoff walk off Palmer but was forced at second on Tanner Settles' short outfield fly that unexpectedly dropped to the ground. A balk moved Settles to second from where he scored on Garrett's solid single. While Caleb Miller ran to first base after a strikeout and had to be thrown out, Garrett took third. Another balk call on Palmer gave Vermillion a 2-0 lead.
After the potentially hazardous first inning that Garrett survived, he began to hum like a well-oiled engine. He had thrown 28 pitches in the first inning but trimmed that down to five in the second and kept on rolling.
He faced one baserunner in each of the remaining innings, but it didn't seem as if Beresford was threatening to score. Garrett struck out a total of six while walking only one more after the two in the first frame. There were two Vermillion infield errors, both on tough plays, but in each case, the baserunner was immediately erased from the basepaths on the next play.
Meierkort from his catcher's position threw a first-inning strike to nail a would-be base-stealer at second base. Garrett himself picked Beresford's leadoff man off second base in the top of the sixth in a game-turning play. There were only two fly balls to the outfield; otherwise Garrett coaxed nine infield ground balls off Beresford bats and two infield pop-ups. Settles made the play on one grounder hit to him as did Tanner Anderson at second base.
And then there was Cody Sommervold. The third-baseman flawlessly covered a grounder in each of four different innings, including one in the fateful top of the seventh when Beresford, three outs from elimination, tried to mount a game-saving rally. An attempted bunt by the first batter fell out of Garrett's glove near the third-base line, but the next batter sent his ground ball to Sommervold who threw for the force at second.
Then came the defensive play of Sommervold's young baseball life. Those who don't know him should be told that Sommervold is a big young man and, because of his size, isn't the most fleet-footed of runners. However, with the game on the line, it is fair to say he sprinted toward the third-base dugout as a foul pop-up off Walker Willman's bat seemed certain to drop harmlessly to the turf. Sommervold dived at the last instant and slid into the fence but got his glove under the dying pop-up for the crucial second out.
If the Beresford players didn't realize before that play that it wasn't going to be their night, they did at that instant. Palmer, Beresford's last hope, sent a pop-up to the other side, and first-baseman Miller settled under it, waved everybody else off, and clutched the out that ended the game.
Vermillion had secured an insurance run in the fifth when Cody Olson completed a strong at-bat with a base on balls, stole second base and scored on Anderson's RBI single.
While Beresford was held to three hits by Garrett, Vermillion managed only four off Palmer, but two of them—those by Garrett in the second and Anderson in the fifth—produced runs. Miller and Sommervold claimed the other two hits.
Chayse Meierkort had the last word.
With raucous razzing from the Beresford dugout ringing in his ears and the Beresford team seemingly destined to, at best, tie the game and, at worst, take the lead, Meierkort triumphantly and dramatically struck out the final two batters with the bases loaded to save a 7-6 victory for Vermillion and advance the team into the championship session.
Vermillion had taken a 7-4 lead into the top of the seventh and final inning last Wednesday night, but two walks and a hit batter put Meierkort into one huge pickle. A wild pitch allowed one run to score, putting Beresford runners at third and second.
Matt Hoines drove a sharp basehit through the infield, and everyone in the park assumed the game would be tied. The runner at third did score easily, but the runner who had been on second base was gunned down by rightfielder Joe Mazour. His throw to catcher Mitch Brown was to the third-base side of home plate by a couple yards, and Brown and the ball were there waiting to tag the oncoming runner. Thus, the score remained 7-6 in Vermillion's favor.
A walk to Ethan Sorensen put the tying run at second and the lead run at first, and still there was only one out. But Meierkort fought off the impending disaster, nailing Matt Wiebers and then Derek Wiebers on swinging third strikes to quiet the Beresford dugout and lift the Vermillion crowd to some level just shy of Cloud Nine.
Starter Collin Bertram gave up two first-inning singles for one Beresford run but worked out of further trouble on a strikeout and a fly ball. His team responded with a three-run bottom half of the first, helped along by Beresford's inability to make plays. Bertram walked, Brown was hit with a pitch, and Tanner Settles walked. A two-out wild pitch skittered away from home plate to let in one run, and when the catcher tried to nail a second man at the plate, he through the ball wildly. Nate Garrett's RBI hit made it a 3-1 lead.
Beresford went up 4-3 with a three-run third on four straight hits, but Bertram recovered strongly with a pair of strikeouts to end that inning. Vermillion immediately went ahead again with a three-run third started by Tanner Anderson's ringing double. A walk, Meierkort's single and a fielder's choice on a ball hit by Settles loaded the bases.
Beresford had a chance to escape with no damage but again couldn't make the big play. Their second-baseman caught a pop-up on the outfield grass for the second out, but in trying to double off Settles at first base, his throw went sailing into foul territory, keeping the inning alive and letting in one run. Caleb Miller then made Beresford pay dearly, hitting a clutch two-run double to put Vermillion ahead 6-4.
It became 7-4 in the fourth when Bertram singled and was driven home by another Anderson hit.
Bertram struck out four and walked none during his four innings on the mound. Meierkort relieved starting the fifth and got Beresford in order on two strikeouts and a ground ball on which shortstop Settles and first-baseman Miller both made great plays to get the out.
Meierkort struck out the side in the sixth with one harmless walk mixed in. Counting his two strikeouts to end the game, he struck out seven in his three innings of relief.