The South Central League is hoping one trend continues and another changes.
At least at the South Dakota State Class B Amateur Baseball Tournament, which begins today (Wednesday) at Mitchell’s Cadwell Park.
Five times in the last seven tournaments has a league team advanced to at least the semifinal round: Crofton lost in the 2010 finals, beat Tabor for the 2011 crown, lost in the 2012 finals, and then lost in the 2014 and 2016 semifinals. And Wynot won the 2014 state title.
There were two other years, though, that the league was completely out of the tournament after the second round.
Now, with six representatives in the 32-team field, that’s what the South Central League is looking to change.
District 6B champion Tabor leads the way, while the league will also have Crofton, Wynot, Freeman, Irene and Lesterville in the bracket.
The State Line League also qualified six teams to the state tournament, including the Vermillion Grey Sox for a second straight year.
The first area team to take the field at Cadwell Park is Vermillion tonight (Wednesday) at 7:30 p.m. against Clark.
In other area action:
• Wynot plays Garretson on Thursday at 1 p.m.
• Freeman plays Milbank on Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
• Irene faces Northville on Friday at 11 a.m.
• Tabor plays Beresford on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
• Crofton opens with Salem on Saturday at 11 a.m.
• Lesterville plays Madison on Sunday at 11 a.m.
Here is a look at each of the seven area teams headed for the state tournament, in order of when they play.
The combination of key newcomers and specific strong performances against some of the best teams in the State Line League has the Vermillion Greysox optimistic for the state tournament.
The addition of former Mount Marty College pitcher Alex Mogensen and veteran catcher Steve Fejfar has given Vermillion a shot in the arm all season, according to manager Mike Moran.
And their presence has helped the Greysox win some close games that they might have not have in previous years.
“This year we have shown that we can come back from a deficit and work better under pressure than previous years,” Moran said.
The performances of other players like Josh Lucken, Tanner Anderson, Ethan James, Jay Thaler, Cole Anderson, Colin Olson and Colin Bertram has Vermillion hoping to stick around the state tournament for a while.
“I think we have played pretty well going into state,” Moran said, “and the guys really want to string some wins together and show people all over we can compete with the best.”
The last time Wynot played a game at the state amateur tournament, it was hoisting the championship trophy.
That was 2014. And the Expos haven’t been back since.
Many of those players from that title team remain with the Expos, so they’ll look to make a repeat run.
Wynot has been led by player/manager Lee Heimes, along with Steve Heimes, Chase Rolfes, Kyle Wiepen, Ryan Heimes, Clif Kephart, Scott Morrison, Brett Wiebelhaus, Cody Stratman, Jackson Sudbeck, Devon Lammers and David Schenk.
The Expos also bolstered their state tournament roster with three pickup players, all from Menno: Kyler Pekarek, Cody Ulmer and Josh Berndt.
Freeman Black Sox
In their return trip to the state tournament, the Black Sox are looking to make a deeper run than a year ago when they were bounced in the second round.
Freeman, though, is looking to find its stride — including the district tournament, it has lost seven of its last nine games.
“I wouldn’t call it momentum or anything like that, but we need to get a few things rolling,” manager Brett Scherschligt said. “Our pitching has been pretty consistent, but our bats have felt a little cold.”
It’s the pitching that has guided Freeman all season, just like it did a year ago when the Black Sox won a game at the state tournament.
Freeman boasts veteran arms in Eric Hortness (4-3, 2.00 ERA), Brett Scherschligt (2-5, 3.42 ERA) and Allan Scherschligt (4-3, 2.05 ERA), and all three have found success at the state tournament.
“Personally, when you take the mound, it’s like, ‘I can handle this,’” Brett Scherschligt said. “And for the team, it’s the same thing. They know, ‘He’s done some good things up here.’”
Offensively for Freeman, the regular players have been Phil Madsen (.163), Allan Scherschligt (.231), Lee Scherschligt (.357, 1 HR, 12 RBI), Mitch Wollmann (.192), Trey Waltner (.113), Brett Scherschligt (.357, 4 HR, 16 RBI), Jake Weier (.232), Kevin Kunz (.268), Kyle Weier (.340) and Hortness (.318).
Freeman added three players for the state tournament: Doug Hall (Menno), Tate Bruckner (Menno) and Bryan Fuks (Scotland).
A year ago, Irene nearly pulled an early upset at the state tournament: The Cardinals lost to eventual state runner-up Garretson 3-2.
Now, Irene is back in the field and looking to make a deeper run.
The Cardinals are again led by a veteran nucleus that includes Simon Healy, Alex Loes, Matt Sees, George Sees, Adam Gale and Sam Parkinson. Also in the mix are Bryant Knodel and Tate Gale.
Newcomer Ryne Lees, who struck out 12 Crofton batters in six innings at the district tournament, has bolstered the Irene lineup and pitching staff.
For the state tournament, Irene added Menno’s Dylan Lehr for added depth and speed.
After their District 6B championship win over Crofton, the Bluebirds are flying high heading into the state tournament.
“We hit the ball really well in that game,” manager Joe Vavruska said of the district final. “Other than the fielding, which we have to clean up (Tabor had seven errors), I think we can play with anybody.”
Tabor, though, vividly remembers the sting of last year’s first round exit at the state tournament. In that game, the Bluebirds led 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning but their pitchers hit four straight batters with the bases loaded to lose 4-3.
“That’s still in the back of their minds, but I know they want to get back there and do better this year,” Vavruska said.
The Bluebirds boast the District 6B Tournament MVP in legion pickup player Cole Uecker, and he’s joined by a roster that includes Zach Sutera, Brandon Kemp, Jason Humpal, Rob Keppen, Blasé Vanecek, Hunter Hallock, Logan Tycz, Jeff Honner and Ross Kortan.
Tabor also added Menno’s Macon Oplinger for the state tournament, which will give the Bluebirds some pitching and outfield help, Vavruska said.
If the Bluebirds beat Beresford in the first round, they would be faced with playing either the Parkston Mudcats or Harrisburg.
A year ago, Crofton rode the pitching experience of Randy Thygeson and Derek Appley all the way to the semifinals of the state tournament.
This year, Appley is gone. But in his place is Scot Donner, a former state tournament MVP for the Bluejays. And his return has once again given Crofton a solid 1-2 punch on the mound.
The regular starter this season have been Kyle Mueller, Donner, Nick Hegge, Thygeson, Tyler Zimmerman, Brandon Hegge, James Kaiser, Jared Wiebelhaus and player/manager Carl Schieffer.
Also in the mix are Ben Hegge, Austin Hegge, Lathan Maibaum, Tyler Koch, Colton Schieffer, Andrew Schieffer and Chris Kleinschmidt.
Crofton also added three pickup players, all from Menno, for the state tournament: Cameron Kerkhove, Damon Robish and Ryan Liebl.
After four years, the Broncs are back at the state tournament. And based on how they played at the District 6B Tournament, they’re feeling pretty good.
“Right now, we’re playing very well,” manager Kevin Bloch said. “We had three great pitching performances in districts.”
Dave Schmidt pitched a complete game 4-hitter in the first round of districts, and Tanner Van Driel — a legion pickup player — followed with two strong outings. And on top of that, the Broncs put together some crucial hits in big moments, Bloch said.
“It was really fun to watch,” he said.
And even though Lesterville has a handful of players who saw time in the 2013 state tournament (the team’s last trip), many are new to the experience. Getting back there was the goal all season, Bloch said, and it was the team’s attitude that made it happen.
“I just think it’s our positive attitude toward everybody,” he said. “In years past, we might have gotten upset at each other, but now it’s, ‘Let’s just move on to the next play.’”
Other than Schmidt and Van Driel, Lesterville also has Tyler Edler and Alex Wagner as pitching options for the state tournament. And they’re joined by guys like Zach Johnson, Ian Powell, Mason Mueller, Hunter Martin, Cameron Schiltz, Andy Dollerschell, Andy Gall, Shaye Bloch and Garrett Kotalik.
Lesterville added Menno’s Brad Ulmer for the state tournament.
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