Vermillion's Post 1 baseball team rides the momentum of an eight-game winning streak and a Region 3 championship into the state American Legion Class "B" tournament at Milbank starting today.
When Post 1 came home from a Rapid City tournament on July 3 having sustained eight losses in their past 10 games, their record had fallen to 13-13 with all but one of those 13 defeats coming at the hands of Class "A" teams. But since then, Vermillion has returned to form, completing a 3-0 sweep through the Region 3 tourney at Lennox last weekend with a 20-4 thumping of the host team in the championship contest.
Vermillion plays Corsica at about 12:30 p.m. today in its state tourney opener. On the second day of the double-elimination meet Saturday, Vermillion will face Groton or Milbank, either in a losers' bracket game at 12:30 p.m. or a championship bracket game at 7:30.
After that the brackets cross, and play continues till a state champ is determined in one or two final games Tuesday.
This is the fifth state tourney trip in the 12-year tenure of Coach Jason Gault. Post 1 placed third in 2001, finished seventh in 2003 and 2007 and won the state crown in 2009.
Post 1 – 5, Lennox 1
Vermillion, which had destroyed Lennox 28-1 on the same field earlier in the season, got a quick reminder in the regional opener Thursday that tournament time is a whole new ballgame.
In a game played in energy-sucking afternoon heat, Post 1 pitchers twice in the sixth inning—and three more times in the seventh—faced the potential tying run at the plate. And in all of those at-bats, reliever Nate Garrett did his job, preserving Vermillion's lead and keeping Post 1 from the dreaded losers' bracket where pitching staffs go to die.
Collin Bertram was brought in with one out in the eighth, wiggled out of a jam and polished off five Lennox batters in a row to end the game triumphantly.
Post 1 starter Nile Morecraft was brilliant. At one stretch he had struck out seven of the first Lennox batters. Through four innings he had allowed no hits while walking two. He and his team had 1 4-0 lead as Lennox came to bat in the bottom of the fifth.
With one out and a Lennox man on second base, Jake Rischel's grounder was fielded by Tanner Anderson at third base. Seeing the runner had strayed a bit too far off second, he fired to second-baseman Stormy Mirtz, who applied the tag to erase the lead runner. It was a huge play because the next batter, Derrick Olson, doubled up the gap. With runners at the corners, Morecraft coaxed a grounder to Mirtz to end the threat and keep the lead at 4-0.
Meanwhile, on offense Post 1 had taken a 2-0 lead in the second on a leadoff walk to Anderson and Mirtz's beating hit with a pitch. A walk to Tanner Settles loaded the bases, and Anderson scored on a wild pitch. On the tail end of a delayed steal, Mirtz scored when the Lennox catcher couldn't handle the ball on a close play at the plate.
Bertram's leadoff single in the third led to a 3-0 lead. He was sacrificed to second by Caleb Miller and scored on Chayse Meierkort's double to the fence.
Anderson led off the fourth with a single, advanced on a Mirtz single and a stolen base and scored on Jayce Huska's ground-out to the first baseman.
Things began to get scary in the bottom of the sixth when the first three Lennox batters reached base on a single and two walks. Morecraft gave way to Garrett, whose first batter lofted a fly to left. It scored the only Lennox run of the game. Then came one of the contest's turning points, a beautiful Settles-to-Mirtz-to-Miller double play to end the inning with the tying run again at the plate.
More tension awaited in the seventh! A single and a double put Lennox men in scoring position, but the next three batters, each of them representing the tying run, were all gunned down by Garrett on a strikeout, a grounder to Miller at first, and a grounder to Mirtz at second.
Post 1 picked up a crucial insurance run in the eighth when Garrett led off with a walk, moved to second on Bertram's grounder, went to third on a pair of walks and scored on a wild pitch.
Garrett, with one out in the eighth, gave up a pair of singles and gave way to Bertram. He immediately struck out the first Lennox man he faced and ended the inning with a fly ball which Joe Mazour brought down in right field. In the ninth Bertram fielded the first batter's ground ball himself, then got two more infield grounders fielded by Settles and Mirtz to end the game.
Bertram had three of Post 1's eight hits, and Anderson had two.
Post 1 – 11, Beresford 0
It was Beresford which had eliminated Post 1 from Legion play in 2010 and 2011. While Friday's second-round win didn't erase that fact, a satisfying 11-0 seven-inning reversal of that result sent Vermillion into the championship game.
Chayse Meierkort and Collin Bertram crushed no-doubt home runs to highlight a 15-hit attack, and Bertram pitched another gem. Yet two of Vermillion's most crucial basehits didn't go more than 15 feet from home plate, and Beresford learned that, if you make a mistake against Post 1, chances are you will pay the price.
Vermillion stranded four men on base in the first three innings. Meanwhile, Bertram struck out the first eight Beresford batters. At that point a double, a single and a walk loaded the bases for Beresford, but Bertram escaped with an inning-ending pop fly to second base. Those two hits would prove to be the only hits Bertram allowed all day.
Jayce Huska's one-out walk in the top of the fourth ignited the game-winning rally. Tanner Settles hit a chopper that bounced high off the bone-dry infield less than halfway to the pitcher's mound. When it came down, pitcher Ethan Sorensen had to hurry his throw to first base. The ball hit Settles in the back as he reached first base, sending him to second and Huska around to third.
Nile Morecraft sliced a clean basehit to left field, scoring both runners, and when the left-fielder let the ball roll through him, Morecraft went to second. Nate Garrett's single scored him, and Caleb Miller's hit scored Garrett for a 4-0 lead.
Garrett started a five-run sixth that put the game out of Beresford's reach with a single and a stolen base. A pair of Sorensen wild pitches scored Garrett, and Bertram walked. Miller's bunt hugged the first-base chalk line, and Beresford had no choice but to hope it would roll foul. Instead the ball died rolled dead on the chalk 20 feet from home plate.
With Bertram and Meierkort aboard, Meierkort launched his mortar shell over the left-field fence, lifting Post 1 to an 8-0 lead and ending Sorensen's pitching day. Reliever Logan Hunter immediately allowed a basehit to Tanner Anderson. He stole second, then distracted Hunter into a balk that advanced T.A. to third. From there he scored on Huska's RBI single.
Meanwhile, Beresford managed only one base runner against Bertram in the fifth and two more in the sixth—one on Bertram's only walk of the game and the other on a fielder's choice. They were sandwiched between two more strikeouts—Bertram finished with 11 K's for the day.
The crowning touch on Post 1's victory came in the top of the seventh when Garrett again started things, this time with a walk, and Bertram sent a home run ball over the right-field wall into the adjacent ballpark. In the bottom of the seventh he retired Beresford in order to end the game.
Among Vermillion's 15 hits, Bertram and Miller had three each. Anderson, Huska, Morecraft and Garrett had two hits apiece.
Post 1 – 20, Lennox 4
The lopsided nature of the final score belies the fact that the championship game Saturday night was up for grabs through five innings. Lennox, playing its fifth game in three days, rallied from 4-0 to make it 4-2 and from 6-2 to make it 6-4 before Vermillion took charge.
Strong pitching, clutch hitting and strong defense paved the way to the title, and so did the ability of Post 1 table-setters to ignite rallies with their patience at the plate.
Starter Garrett contained Lennox through five innings with four runs, seven hits, five strikeouts and three walks. Meanwhile, he and his teammates pecked away at Lennox's ever-weakening pitching staff two runs at a time.
A wild pitch and Anderson's grounder scored a pair in the first. Hits by Huska and Settles, an error at shortstop on Morecraft's grounder and Garrett's sacrifice produced two more in the third. A sacrifice fly by Mirtz and another error at shortstop brought home two runs in the fifth.
But Lennox was still within 6-4 when Post 1 came to the plate in the game-changing top of the sixth. With two out Miller and Meierkort worked their way on base with walks against second Lennox pitcher Dusty Javers. Reliever Andy Becker was greeted by Anderson with the first of successive clutch hits with men in scoring position. He drove the ball up the gap to the right-center fence, making it 8-4.
Morecraft took the mound, and Lennox would not score again as the tall reliever shut down Post 174 through the final four innings without a run, only one hit and six strikeouts.
Meanwhile, knowing one never has enough runs, Post 1 did its job in the seventh, and again it was after two were out. Garrett, Bertram and Miller in succession each came through with a run-scoring clutch basehit as Vermillion pushed its lead to 11-4.
Becker was all Lennox had left after its run through the losers' bracket, and by the final two innings he had nothing left himself. Post 1 got an eighth-inning run on an infield out off Morecraft's bat. In the ninth the roof caved in on Lennox. Anderson cleared the bases with a three-run triple, giving him six RBIs for the game. At that point the Lennox defense lost its focus, committing five infield errors before the eight-run, three-hit inning ended.
Garrett had three of Post 1's 14 hits and drove in three runs. Bertram, Miller, Meierkort and Anderson had two hits each. Just as important was the work done by Post 1's leadoff men. Bertram and Huska twice led off scoring innings, once each with a walk and once each with a single. Miller twice earned walks that led to big innings.
Vermillion's small-ball strategy excelled, too. Miller, Garrett, Anderson and Settles all successfully laid down sacrifice bunts, and two other Post 1 bunts went for basehits.
The defense up the middle was solid as well with Settles at shortstop and Mirtz at second handling five chances. None was more important than in the fifth right after Lennox had put its first two men on base. A 4-6-3 double play scored a run but killed the best Lennox scoring chance. After that, it was all over.