Any no-hitter is one of baseball's golden moments. But a no-hitter in the midst of a pressure-packed sudden-death postseason playoffs stretch against the defending state "B" champions is downright spectacular.
A spectacular night is just what it was at Prentis Park on Sunday.
Collin Bertram shut down Bon Homme/Scotland from the mound without a hit, his defense supported him flawlessly, and the Tanager offense clawed and scratched to get a single run as Vermillion beat the visitors 1-0.
By winning this Region 1B semifinal classic for their 12th straight victory, the Tanagers moved into the regional championship game later in the week as host team against Mount Vernon/Plankinton/Woonsocket. The winner of that contest plays at 10 a.m. Monday at Sioux Falls Stadium in the state "B" semifinals.
With workmanlike precision Bertram faced only 22 batters in seven innings—one more than the minimum. Besides the obvious—allowing no hits and no runs—he struck out seven and walked two. Meanwhile, the Tanagers used a one-out first-inning single off Caleb Miller's bat, a botched double-play attempt by Bon Homme, and an RBI hit by Tanner Anderson to manufacture the game's only run.
Vermillion stranded two runners in that first inning and one each in the second through fifth innings, but losing hurler Ross Kortan kept the Tanagers off the scoreboard the rest of the way. He, too, struck out seven and walked only one, allowing five hits and that one unearned run, certainly a day's work worthy of a pitching victory on almost any other day.
Bertram had retired six men in a row when Chase Kortan led off the top of the third with a walk and stole second. But he remained there as Bertram struck out Nathan Bares, got Hunter Young on a pop-up to second base and retired Kody Larson on a grounder to second.
With one out in the fourth came the other Bon Homme baserunner. Blase Vanecek walked. With two out, Bertram, who had ended the postseason opener against Dakota Valley last week with a pickoff of a runner, did it again. His throw went to first-baseman Miller as Vanecek headed toward second base. He went back and forth between the two bases as two-thirds of the Tanager team touched the ball during the rundown. Shortstop Tanner Settles, second-baseman Stormy Mirtz, third-baseman Tanner Anderson and center-fielder D'Andre Fore and Miller were all involved until Settles chased down Vanecek and tagged him out just before he could return to first base safely.
After that Bertram retired 10 men in a row to finish the game.
Not only in a no-hitter but in any 1-0 game there is no margin for error, and the Tanagers on defense made no such errors. Left-fielder Nate Garrett had two fly balls come his way, and center-fielder Fore caught one. Anderson at third base fielded the grounder that went his way without any trouble. Mirtz at second caught two pop-ups and fielded one grounder. Bertram himself came down off the mound to snare a pop-up over the infield that came down near the third-base foul line. First-baseman Miller caught two infield pop-ups and was on the receiving end of five throws from other infielders.
So if anybody saved the no-hitter for Bertram, it was Settles at shortstop, who had three chances, two on grounders straight to the shortstop position, one of them ending the game. But with one out in the sixth, Settles had to go to his right toward third base, field a ball deep in the hole near the outfield grass and throw a cannon shot all the way across to Miller. It got there in time, and that was as close as Bon Homme came to a basehit.
The Tanagers' lone run saw Miller's hit put him on first with one out in the first inning. A ground ball off Chayse Meierkort's bat went to second-baseman Sawyer Fridrich. It was a double-play opportunity, but Fridrich's flip to shortstop Chase Kortan was wide of the bag, and Kortan was unable to touch the sack as he glided by and fired on to first base. So not only was Miller safe, but Meierkort beat the throw to first. Anderson then came through the RBI hit that made it 1-0.
Settles led off the second with a single, and two sacrifices moved him to third, but he was stranded there when pitcher Kortan ended the inning with a strikeout. A two-out hit by Anderson in the third was wasted as was a two-out single by Joe Mazour in the fourth and a two-out walk by Meierkort in the fifth. In the latter case Anderson, going for this third hit of the game, laced a line drive destined for center field, but pitcher Kortan snared it as it went by his head to end that inning.
The Tanagers went down in order in the sixth, so here came the final inning, and the lead was still only 1-0. The heart of the Bon Homme order was due up, but Bertram got Ross Kortan on the pop-up that Bertram himself caught. Vanecek went down on a called third strike. Ulmer grounded to Settles. Ballgame!
Last week's playoff opener against Dakota Valley took 80 minutes to get through 6 1/2 innings. This one took only 65 minutes.
The Memorial Day schedule at Sioux Falls for whoever qualifies calls for the champions of Regions 1 and 2 to play at 10 a.m., and three games to follow in succession with only 20 minutes in between. The second game matches the champs of Regions 3 and 4. The third-place game matches the losers of the two semifinal contests, then comes the state championship game.