Vermillion's VFW 13-14 Teeners took to the field 40 times this summer, and 31 times they came off as victors. But in the third-place game of the state tournament at Humboldt Sunday, the fickle gods of baseball decided to give the team a kick in the gut with which to remember the season.
A 2-1 loss to the host Humboldt team left Coach Matt Houk's ballclub with a 31-9 record, fourth place at state, a ton of experience, and a lot of good times, and some promising ballplayers to send up to higher levels in the coming years.
Vermillion pitcher Cole Anderson didn't deserve to be tagged with a pitching defeat. Through six innings he had struck out four, walked four and given up only one run and three hits. In three different innings Anderson made the fielding play that ended Humboldt's at-bat. A double play engineered by second-baseman Joe Miller helped him out of one jam. He stranded three Humboldt runners in the third after the home team had scored its lone run on a single, a stolen base and a double by Jonah Recktenbaugh. The rest of the way, Anderson cruised, getting at least one strikeout in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
Meanwhile, Vermillion stranded three baserunners off Humboldt starter Blake Svoboda through four innings and another in the fifth off reliever Justin Sebert. Finally in the top of the sixth Carter Kratz drove a triple to the wall in right-center and scored on a two-out hit by Hunter Christopherson.
So it stayed tied at 1-1 into Humboldt's final at-bat. The leadoff batter reached safely when an infield throw couldn't be handled at first base. On the next batter's ball pitcher Anderson tried to force the runner at second base, but his throw was high. A sacrifice bunt turned into an infield hit, and Humboldt had the winning run at third with no outs. Noah Vettrus slammed a line drive off Anderson's body, and by the time second-baseman Miller could field the deflected line drive, the decisive run had crossed the plate.
Svoboda struck out six and walked only one while Sebert fanned three and walked none. Of Vermillion's six hits Christopherson and Olson had two apiece, Kratz one and Brandon Mockler one.
Teeners 7, Spearfish 5
Given a chance to redeem himself, Carter Kratz did so with a flourish Friday in the tournament opener.
A slowly-hit ground ball had found its way between the Vermillion shortstop's legs on what would have been an inning-ending play in the fifth, allowing Spearfish to score the two tying runs. An inning later they scored three more to go up by 5-2.
But in the bottom of the sixth when two infield errors by Spearfish opened the door for Vermillion, it was Kratz who first burst through. His basehit loaded the bases with nobody out and set the stage for a five-run rally that lifted to the Teeners to a 7-5 advantage with three outs remaining.
When starter Billy Mount walked Spearfish's leadoff man in the top of the seventh, Kratz was brought to the mound to save it for Vermillion, and save it he did!
In the game of baseball, that crazy ball finds its way to the most unique places. Wouldn't you know that the first batter Kratz faced hit a grounder to shortstop where Cameron Olson had just taken Kratz's former spot. Olson scooped it up and smoothly glided across the second-base bag for a forceout of the oncoming runner.
With victory now just two outs away, Kratz took matters into his own hands. He froze the next Spearfish batter for a called third strike, then got the last man on a swinging strike to end the game and send Vermillion into the semifinals.
The game-winning surge by Vermillion in the bottom of the sixth, following Kratz's bases-loaded single, featured a huge two-run hit by Mount. Olson's hit tied the game, and when that ball got past the Spearfish right-fielder, runners were able to advance. Brandon Mockler's infield grounder put Vermillion ahead, and Joe Miller singled to make it a two-run lead.
Vermillion scored first on Miller's sacrifice fly in the second and went up 2-0 in the third on an Olson hit.
Spearfish broke the 2-2 tie in the sixth when Mount walked the first two batters. Three successive two-out hits gave the Black Hills team the 5-2 lead, setting the stage for Vermillion's late-inning heroics.
Mount, Vermillion's pitching ace all season, gave up five hits, walked six and struck out three in his six innings of work. But he and his teammates labored mightily to stay in the game, stranding 11 Spearfish runners on base. Of the 13 hits for the winners, Olson had three while Miller and Kratz had two apiece.
Madison 5, Teeners 2
A four-run second inning by his teammates was all that Madison pitcher Taner DenHoek needed in Saturday's semifinal as he threw a three-hitter in ending Vermillion's title hopes.
Madison used a walk, a hit batter, a single and a walk to set the stage for a two-run double by Brayden Gilbert to post its early 4-0 lead. Vermillion got one run back in the third when Kyle Johnson walked and eventually scored on a passed ball.
Madison led 5-1 into the seventh and final inning. Again it was Johnson who walked and later scored on a bases-loaded walk to pull his team within 5-2, but DenHoek finished off his win as Vermillion left the bases loaded. They had done the same thing in the second and stranded men at second and third bases in the third. In the sixth another chance was lost when men reached second and third with nobody out but DenHoek struck out the side.
Hunter Christopherson pitched three innings, allowing four hits. Carter Kratz threw the final three innings, giving up two hits. At the plate Cameron Olson had two of the three Vermillion hits, and Kratz had the other one.