Sioux Falls was represented in the state Legion baseball championship this year, but for the first time ever, not by either Post 15 East or West.
Renner Post 307, a fifth year program making its state tournament debut, advanced to the Class A championship before falling to perennial power Rapid City Post 22 in the title game.
Post 15 East, Post 15 West and Brandon Valley all reached the state tournament but were eliminated before Sunday.
The win for the Hardhats marked their fourth consecutive state championship. They’ve always been the dominant program in the state, but this is the first time they’ve won four in a row since 1993-1996 – the stretch that included their 1993 legion World Series national championship (the Hardhats won 18 straight championships from 1970-87).
For Renner, the runner-up finish was certainly vindicating. The program’s mere existence was controversial when the team was founded in 2012. John Ratzloff, who now runs Harrisburg’s Legion program, was the one who got Post 307 off the ground, and that project was met with some hostility from the SEBA and Post 15 folks. Sioux Falls had long had the two Post 15 teams, and Ratzloff’s son, Nick, was cut from the Post 15 West team. That played a role in the formation of Post 307 (for the record, Nick developed into a college baseball player and spent this summer playing for the Sioux Falls Pilots summer wood bat team).
Ratzloff insisted the formation of 307 wasn’t just for the sake of his own son – that it was time for Sioux Falls (a city whose population had nearly doubled since Post 15 first split into East and West) to add a third varsity Legion baseball team. Critics countered that 307 was raiding the Post 15 talent pool and diluting the competitiveness of Legion baseball in the community.
Judging by the fact that Renner and Post 15 West had never played each other until they went head to head in the first round of the state tournament last week, I’m guessing the animosity hasn’t totally faded.
In an email sent this weekend, Ratzloff expressed pride in Renner’s climb.
“Watching a bunch of kids, many that were cast offs and attempted back-door cuts that wouldn’t go aways (sic) advance to Sunday is truly rewarding,” Ratzloff wrote. “I can only imagine where these kids would be without the additional Legion program.”
He has a point. Anyone who thought the Renner program would only exist long enough to accommodate the parents of kids cut from the Post 15 teams back in 2012 have been proven wrong.
Roughly 75 kids are part of the Renner Legion baseball program, which fields five teams (Legion, junior Legion, 15/16 and two 13/14 teams. Ratzloff and then-coach Josh Merrigan (the varsity team is now coached by former USF infielder Zach Ireland) insisted the purpose of the 307 program was to provide more opportunities for Legion baseball players, and it appears they’ve done that successfully.
That said, opponents of a third team may not necessarily be ready to concede they were wrong. A Sioux Falls team hasn’t won a state Class A Legion title since 2011, the last year of only having two teams. East followed up its 2011 title with a runner-up finish in 2012, and then fell on hard times, only making it back to the state tournament this year. West has been a regular presence at state this decade, but they haven’t won a title since 2007. All told, Post 15 programs won state championships in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2011. Since the addition of 307 in 2012, Brookings is the only program besides Post 22 to win a title.
Brandon Hunt was the East coach when they won their last title in 2011 (he’s now the head coach at Upper Iowa University). He was skeptical of the need for a third team at the time, saying in a Dec., 2011 Argus Leader story: “Sioux Falls needs to identify what it is as a baseball community. We need to decide if our main focus is to win state championships or if it’s to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to play varsity baseball. I’m not saying either one is right or wrong. But you look at football in Sioux Falls, that sport has an identity in this town. The focus is to dominate. I don’t see or hear a lot of cries to do something about high school football to make sure more kids get playing time.”
Would Sioux Falls have won a state championship at some point in the last five years if Renner hadn’t joined the fold? Perhaps. That said, even the SEBA opponents of the expansion program acknowledged back then that there would come a day when a third team would be necessary. They just felt 2012 wasn’t the time – that the needs of the Legion community were being met.
Maybe they were right. But this year, Post 15 East, Post 15 West and Renner were all clearly good enough to win the state championship. They just didn’t get it done.
For years, Post 22 was the only program in Rapid City until Post 320 came along a little over a decade ago. The same back-and-forth erupted back then. They adjusted, and this year 320 came within one game of facing their ‘rivals’ in the state championship.
Like it or not, Sioux Falls’ Legion community must now make the same adjustment.
Follow Matt Zimmer on Twitter at @ArgusMattZ .