The Class A state legion baseball tournament kicks off Wednesday at Harmodon Park in Sioux Falls, with a handful of local teams looking to unseat defending champion and perennial power Rapid City Post 22.
Both Sioux Falls Post 15 teams (East and West) qualified for the tournament, along with Renner Post 307 and Brandon Valley. Rapid City Post 320, Watertown and Pierre round out the eight-team bracket.
Post 22 has won each of the last three state championships, giving them 40 all together.
East is the host team and therefore had an automatic bid, but with a 29-win season they accomplished their goal of proving they belonged. While Post 22’s history might make them a default favorite, it seems that this is as even a field as there’s been in some time. These are the state’s eight best teams, and any of them could emerge with a state championship if things fall into place.
“It’s really going to be a great tournament,” said Renner coach Zach Ireland. “There are eight good teams that have been coached very well and done the little things right to get here. There’s teams with shutdown pitchers and teams that lean heavily on their offense. It should be a good tourney all the way around. Everybody has a chance to win it.”
The double-elimination tournament begins Wednesday at 10 a.m. when Watertown takes on Pierre. At 1 p.m., Renner takes on Post 15 West, and Brandon Valley meets the Hardhats of Post 22 at 5 p.m. East takes on Rapid City 320 in the late game.
The Renner vs. West game should be intriguing, as it’s the first-ever meeting between the teams. West will be sending ace Connor Hurley (7-0 with a 1.18 ERA) to the mound, while Renner will counter with hard-throwing lefty Spencer Koelwyn.
West (30-18) has made themselves a regular presence at the state tournament, but they haven’t won a title since 2007.
“Our guys know what to expect, and we talked about that,” said West coach Joel Sage, whose team is led on offense by Isaac Nelsen (.443), Chandlar Austin (.423) and Justin Aldrich (.391). “This is Chandlar’s third time at state and the second time for quite a few of our other guys. They definitely know how to take that business-like approach. They want to make a deep run.”
Renner has experience, too. They’re a veteran-laden team – nine seniors that have been playing together for a few years, building towards this season. Chandler Schaefbauer and Luke Rysavy have carried the Royals at the plate, both batting well over .400, but Ireland says they’re adept at playing small ball when needed.
“It’s a really smart and aggressive baseball team,” Ireland said. “The boys have really taken it upon themselves to get it done this year. I kind of just write a lineup and let them go play because they know what to do.”
For East (29-20), the entire season has been a process of building confidence after a trio of underwhelming seasons. They haven’t played their first-round opponent this year, though a win over Post 22 stands as one of their bigger wins of the season.
Andrew White (.311, 56 RBI), Evan Kuhnert (.370), Matt Heeden (.384) and Keenahn Coyle (.370) have all had big seasons at the plate, while the pitching staff has been consistent across the board.
Do they have what it takes to win their first state title since 2011 in their first tournament appearance since a runner-up finish in 2012?
“I definitely think so,” said East coach Matt Storo. “We have enough pitching. The goal is to continue pitching well like we have, play solid defense and hopefully score enough runs. Anything can happen at this point. It’s pretty wide open.”
As for Brandon Valley, they’re back in the tournament after missing out last year. They fought their way through a tough region to earn their spot, but coach Grant Hieb likes the resolve his team has shown through a 26-19 season.
He’ll likely send Mitchell Hoover (5-2, 2.72) to the hill in the opener against Post 22, but also has Ryan Meyer (7-3, 1.91), Ethan Horner (6-2, 2.38) and Payton Livingston (1-5, 2.96) at the ready. At the plate, BV relies on Horner (.371), Livingston (.275, 3 homers, 30 RBI) and Isaiah Chevalier (.365, .503 on-base percentage).
“Every team here has reasons to think they can win it,” Hieb said. “I think small ball is going to play a big part – Harmodon is a big park and there aren’t going to be a lot of home runs. You’re going to see teams putting pressure on each other to see who can make plays. We can play small ball with the best of ‘em, so I feel good, but it’s going to come down to which team shows up and plays defense and gets good pitching. It always does.”
AMERICAN LEGION CLASS A STATE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
Wednesday through Sunday at Harmodon Park
Watertown vs Pierre, 10 a.m.
Renner vs. SF Post 15 West, 1 p.m.
Brandon Valley vs. RC Post 22, 5 p.m.
SF Post 15 East vs. RC Post 320, 8 p.m.