Like the little engine that could, Vermillion's underdog Grey Sox huffed and puffed and, in the end, chugged their way up and over the mountaintop, surprising one of amateur baseball's legendary teams, Dell Rapids Pabst Blue Ribbon, in the first round of the state Class "B" tournament in Mitchell Saturday night.
Vermillion's young whipper-snappers, most of whom are no more than three years removed from American Legion baseball, took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning, then stunned the tournament with a six-run sixth. Down 9-3, PBR scored five runs in the eighth and ninth, but three profoundly huge insurance runs in the top of the ninth had given the Grey Sox a comfort margin that survived the Dells team's desperate rallies.
The Grey Sox thus advanced to the second round and a Wednesday night matchup with the Parkston Mudcats. If the Grey Sox came up with more magic in that one, their next game would be in the quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Friday against Miller/Wessington or Tabor. The state championship game is Sunday.
If Cody Schreiber's rubber arm was numb as this week began, it is understandable. He threw 137 pitches in 7-plus innings, allowing four hits and four runs, three of them earned. He struck out four but walked 10, and thus PBR had baserunners almost constantly. They stranded 11 while Schreiber was on the mound and four more in the final two innings with Michael Kendall pitching in relief.
Dell Rapids PBR won the Corn Belt League regular-season championship and its district tournament, but if they were overlooking a seemingly overmatched Grey Sox club, it cost them. Instead of starting its aces on the mound, PBR went with Dale Solberg. He contained the Grey Sox for four innings, gave up four hits in the sixth, then was blown out of the game in Vermillion's huge sixth inning.
His first reliever, Dean Entringer, lasted only a third of that inning, then Landon Klock finished up. He was on his game, retiring nine batters in a row until, like a lightning bolt that came out of nowhere, the Grey Sox with two out in the ninth suddenly came up with a three-run burst of insurance, started by Klock himself when he hit Josh Gross and walked Tyler Johnson. The eighth and ninth men in the batting order, Joe Millar and Jerrod Freidel, produced mammoth RBI singles as did leadoff man Jason Rasmussen. That made it 12-5 for the Grey Sox, so when PBR scored three in the bottom of the ninth, it wasn't as nerve-wracking as it could have been.
Vermillion's initial run in the first came when Kendall singled and scored on an infield error. Solberg retired 10 Sox in a row until four straight singles in the fifth by Freidel, Rasmussen, Kendall and Schreiber erased a 2-1 deficit and produced a 3-2 lead Vermillion would never relinquish.
With one out in the key sixth, Gross, who like Millar was a pickup play from the Elk Point Stags, singled as did Tyler Johnson. The game turned on a huge dropped fly ball by PBR's left-fielder that scored two. A pop-up to the pitcher should have ended the inning but, because of the error, was only the second out. So Rasmussen singled, Kendall sent a home-run ball out of Cadwell Park, Schreiber doubled and Reid Meierkort singled him home.
PBR scored once in the sixth and two in the eighth to crawl to within 9-5, so the three runs in the top of the ninth with two out were heaven-sent, to be sure.
Rasmussen and Kendall had three hits each, and Kendall had four RBIs. Freidel and Schreiber also had two hits each. Klock had three RBIs for PBR and Kevin Krull added a pair.