By Caleb Miller
Down to their last three outs, trailing by a run, and facing a foe that had allowed them only two hits all game, the Teener Reds had their backs pressed firmly against the wall in the championship game of the Sunshine Tournament held in Brandon last weekend.
But just as in every good sports film, the Vermillion 9 beat the odds, plating two runs in the top of the final frame and holding the lead in the bottom to steal the victory from the Brandon Valley 14-year-old team Sunday night.
The win in the championship game came after two pool play wins Saturday against Hills/Beaver Creek and the Sioux Falls Cyclones and a victory in the semifinal against the Brandon Valley 13-year old team Sunday morning.
Offensive fireworks powered the Teeners through the first three games as they averaged 13.3 runs a game before the final game, but it was a strong pitching performance from Carter Kratz that enabled Vermillion to capture the tournament crown.
Vermillion Reds, 3; Brandon Valley 14’s, 2
It was a last inning straight from a storybook. Vermillion trailed 2-1, with their only run in the game coming when a Nate Robertson pop-up was misplayed, allowing Cameron Olson to cross the plate in the second inning. But the Teeners remained in the game behind Carter Kratz, who pitched all six innings and, after allowing two runs in the first inning, went the rest of the game without allowing a single batter to score.
Cole Anderson dug in to lead off the final inning for the Reds against the formidable Brandon Valley pitcher. Anderson wasted no time as he poked the first pitch he saw into left field for a lead-off single and a breath of life for Vermillion. Kratz followed by blooping a single into right field and the rally was on. Billy Mount, who stepped into the box having reached base in 13 of his 16 plate appearances in the tournament, looked as if he’d tied the game with a screaming line drive to left field, but the ball was hit directly at the fielder who squeezed it for the first out. Next came a little trickery from the Teeners.
The batter Hunter Christopherson squared around as if to bunt, drawing the third baseman toward the plate just as Anderson broke for third. The play worked as the Brandon Valley catcher, throwing to an empty bag, sailed the throw into left field and Anderson came around to score and tie the game. Christopherson proceeded to bring in Kratz on the next pitch with a fly ball to the left fielder. Kratz tagged up on the catch and bolted for the plate as the outfielder launched the ball in. The play at home was a close one, but the umpire signaled safe to give Vermillion a 3-2 lead.
But if taking the lead was difficult, retaining it would prove just as hard. Brandon Valley looked to be on the verge of tying the game as their lead-off batter reached second base with no outs. But Kratz and the Vermillion fielders devised a play worthy of a Tony Award.
Kratz faked a pick-off throw to second while middle infielders Anderson and Riley Johnson acted as if the ball had sailed into the outfield. The outfielders also broke into a run, chasing a phantom baseball and deceiving the Brandon Valley runner enough that he sprinted toward third base, trying to take advantage of what he thought was a bad throw. Kratz then flipped the ball to third baseman Mount, who applied the tag to the dumbfounded runner.
With momentum back on the side of Vermillion, Kratz got the next batter to pop-out. With two outs, Brandon Valley loaded the bases, but Kratz got the final batter to fly out to Riley Peters in right field to secure the victory.
Vermillion Reds, 11; Brandon Valley 13’s, 5
The semifinal game looked to be getting away from the Teeners after two innings as Vermillion trailed 5-1. But the Reds countered with a big third inning. RBI singles by Mount and Olson cut the lead in half, and, with two outs and the bases loaded, Riley Johnson delivered a clutch two-RBI rope to tie the game.
Vermillion ended up plating three more runs in the inning off Brandon Valley errors. The Teeners never looked back, scoring some insurance runs in the fourth on a double by Mount, single by Robertson, and more Brandon Valley errors. Anderson battled some early runs on walks and errors to be the winning pitcher. Christopherson relieved him with an excellent three-inning effort to nail down the save and send Vermillion to the championship game.
Vermillion Reds, 20; Hills/Beaver Creek, 2
After four innings of the Teeners’ first game Saturday afternoon, you could never have predicted the final score. The Reds were locked in a 3-2 game with H/BC that looked to be a close one. But with the fifth inning came an opening of the offensive floodgates. Vermillion scored 13 runs before the first out was recorded and four more after that to open a 20-2 lead that would hold for the rest of the game, shortened to five innings by the mercy rule. In the inning, Vermillion received two-RBI base hits by Olson, Peters, Kratz, and Anderson twice. Christopherson was the winning pitcher with his four-inning effort and Kyle Johnson closed the door by pitching a scoreless fifth. Anderson, Kratz, and Olson each scored three runs in the rout.
Vermillion Reds, 9; Sioux Falls Cyclones, 5
The Cyclones, a talented group from Sioux Falls, gave the Reds a much closer game in the second pool play matchup on Saturday. Mount took the hill for Vermillion and pitched all six inning. Mount was strong, striking out five and allowing only two earned runs, but some throwing errors by the Vermillion defense led to three unearned runs.
Vermillion took an early lead when Mount helped his own cause by singling in Kratz in the top of the first. After Mount worked out of a bases loaded jam in the bottom of the first, the Reds scored five in the second, aided by an RBI single from Riley Johnson and a two-RBI double by Christopherson.
After the Cyclones cut into the 6-0 margin, the Reds added insurance runs in the fifth when Mount ripped a base hit, scoring Anderson and Kratz.
The tournament victory came after Vermillion beat Beresford and Harrisburg last week, so Vermillion will take a six-game winning streak into matchup this week with Tabor and Dakota Valley.