EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated to include a player who was inadvertently not mentioned in the previous version. We apologize for the error.
It has also been updated to reflect changes in the tournament schedule.
As Yankton Post 12 head coach Drew Lawrence sat down to look at the Region 2A American Legion Baseball Tournament, Saturday through Monday at Yankton’s Riverside Field at Bob Tereshinski Stadium, the focus wasn’t squarely on the 10-game losing streak that Yankton (22-19) has entering the tournament.
“Recently we’ve struggled,” he said. “But we haven’t played that bad.”
The numbers back up that assertion, as the team has given up less than half a run more during the recent skid, which included three close losses to Rapid City Post 22, an 0-5 trip in the always-tough Gopher Classic tournament and two losses in Region 2A play after Yankton had clinched the top seed.
“And we still probably should have won a few of those,” Lawrence said. “In these last 10 games, we’ve seen some really good pitching.”
Prior to the slide, Yankton was batting .303 as a team, and is still batting .285 now. Ethan Wishon (.411, 9 doubles, 2 triples, 33 RBI, 26 runs scored) has led the way, with Rex Ryken (.355, 2 doubles, 7 RBI, 19 runs scored), Caid Koletzky (.336, 4 HR, 8 doubles, 2 triples, 22 RBI, 38 runs scored), Collin Zahrbock (.332, 7 doubles, 19 RBI, 17 runs scored) and Matthew Mors (.315, 1 HR, 5 doubles, 2 triples, 22 RBI) also having good seasons.
Bailey Sage (.304, 2 HR, 9 doubles, 2 triples, 18 RBI, 23 runs scored) has surged down the stretch, including a 9-18 stretch over a five-game span. Michael Drotzmann (.298, 1 HR, 9 doubles, 19 RBI, 16 runs scored) has been a consistent force in the middle of the order.
Levi Wiersma (.221, 1 HR, 6 doubles, 1 triple, 20 RBI, 14 runs scored), Miles Carda (.212, 4 doubles, 12 RBI, 21 runs scored), Owen Feser (.204, 1 double, 7 RBI, 19 runs scored) and Sam Mooney (.197, 4 doubles, 1 triple, 10 RBI, 17 runs scored) have all provided key hits at times during the season. Peyton Mueller (.308, 1 double, 2 RBI), Cole Withrow (.200, 1 double, 3 RBI), Kieren Luellman (.901, 1 double, 2 RBI) and Cayden Peterson (1 RBI, 2 runs scored) have helped provide depth on the field.
Yankton may be without Luellman (5-0, 2.73 earned run average, 35 K in 41 IP) due to injury. He hasn’t pitched since July 2 due to injury, but may be available this weekend. He was 4-0 in five Region 2A starts, including a victory over all four region opponents.
“It will hurt not having Kieren if he can’t go,” Lawrence said. “But we’ve got a couple of others that have been very successful and that want the ball. They want to compete.”
Wishon (3-3, 2.41 ERA, 39 K in 32 IP), Drotzmann (4-4, 3.50 ERA, 43 K in 48 IP) and Wiersma (2-3, 4.24 EAR, 23 K in 33 IP) have the most pitching starts, along with Luellman. Carda (2-1, 3 saves, 3.16 ERA, 16 K in 24 1/3 IP) has done well out of the bullpen, recording a team-high 13 relief appearances. Peterson (2-1, 4.20 ERA, 19 K in 23 1/3 IP) has also piched well out of the pen. Koletzky (1-2, 4.79 ERA, 15 K in 19 IP) and Mooney (2-4, 6.16 ERA, 25 K in 30 2/3 IP) have also seen plenty of work on the mound.
“This is as deep a team as I’ve ever coached,” Lawrence said. “We’ve had a lot of pitchers log a lot of innings. We have a core group that has played almost every game. This group has played together a long time.”
Yankton started the season 22-9, including a 6-0 run in region play that clinched Post 12 the top seed in this weekend’s tournament.
“We did get off to a really good start,” Lawrence said. “We put ourselves to be in position to be the number one team in the region.”
Earning the top seed earned Yankton a key advantage in this weekend’s event — not serving as host, but being the home team in every game it plays up until the championship.
“It’s a big advantage, especially because of how good this region is,” Lawrence said. “Every game will be a battle, and could come down to one or two plays. Being the home team is a little more relaxing because you always have the last chance.”
The other advantage is that whoever Yankton plays Saturday — either fourth seed Sioux Falls East or fifth seed Harrisburg — will have burned through some of its pitching to advance.
“Because we are the one seed, everyone we play will have played a game or two before we play them,” Lawrence said.
Due to the schedule changed forced by today's expected heat, play was pushed back to Saturday, beginning at noon with fifth-seeded Harrisburg against fourth-seeded Sioux Falls East. Second-seeded Sioux Falls West plays Harrisburg at 2:30 p.m. Yankton will face the Harrisburg-East winner at 5 p.m. The losers of the first two games will play an elimination game at 7:30 p.m.
The championship will be a winner-take-all final, Monday at 7 p.m.
The top two teams from the five-team field will advance to the South Dakota State Class A American Legion Baseball Tournament, July 26-30 in Mitchell. The third place team will also have an opportunity, as it will host the third place from Region 1A in a wild card game on July 23.
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