MITCHELL — For the first time since 2003, Yankton will play for a state amateur baseball title.
The Yankton Tappers blanked the Sioux Falls Brewers 3-0 in the first semifinal of the South Dakota State Class A Amateur Baseball Tournament on Friday at Mitchell’s Cadwell Park. The victory sends the Tappers to the title game of the modified double-elimination tournament, Sunday at noon.
“It feels awesome,” said Yankton player-manager Nik Davis after the win. “I said last week (after Yankton went 2-0 on the opening weekend) that we just needed two more wins to win a state title. We’re halfway there.”
Mitch Gullikson had a ground-rule double — the game’s only extra-base hit — a single and a run scored for Yankton. Gabe Leon had two hits, a RBI and a run scored. Derrik Nelson had a hit and a RBI. Mason Townsend and Ross Heine each had a hit. Nik Davis scored a run, and Mack Hollingsworth had a RBI in the victory.
Jose Martinez had two hits for the Brewers, who will play in the second semifinal today (Saturday) at 5:30 p.m. James Borges and Tom Hill each had a hit in the effort.
Beau Lofink went the distance in the win, striking out five. Jeremiah Mauch took the loss, striking out six in his six innings of work.
Sioux Falls had its best scoring threat in the bottom of the first. After a leadoff walk to Borges, Martinez (single) and Josh Kunzmann (walk) reached base to fill the bags with two outs. But Lofink got Jesse Munsterman to hit a grounder to short, ending the threat.
Lofink did not walk another batter the rest of the game, though he did hit Mitchel Steffen twice.
“I tried to get more simplistic,” Lofink said of his adjustment on the mound. “Once I was able to settle in, I allowed my defense to make plays.”
Yankton got on the scoreboard in the first inning. Leon got a two-out infield single, then advanced to second on an errant throw. Nelson followed with a RBI single.
Gullikson’s one-out ground rule double to left-center field set up a Leon RBI single in the fifth.
Yankton added a run in the ninth. Davis reached on an error to lead off the frame, moved up on Alex Mueller’s sacrifice bunt and Mitch Gullikson’s single, then scored on a Hollingsworth sacrifice fly.
Meanwhile, Lofink kept the Brewers off balance. Sioux Falls did not have multiple baserunners at the same time after the first inning, and Lofink retired 12 of the final 13 batters of the game.
“Coming in after the seventh I asked (Lofink) how he was doing, and he said, ‘Maybe one more,’” Davis said. “After he mowed them down in the eighth, I had to leave him out there to start the ninth.
“It just shows how smart a pitcher he is.”
Lofink improved to 6-0 on the season for Yankton (20-2) with a 1.39 earned run average. As a team, the Tappers boast a miniscule 2.68 ERA.
“That’s been our M.O. all year,” Davis said. “We have some studs on the mound, and we’ve got good enough hitters.”
As Yankton awaits its championship opponent — the Brewers will play the winner of today’s 11 a.m. elimination game between defending champion Renner and the Sioux Falls Squirrels for the right to play for the title — the Tappers will briefly enjoy the moment.
“It would be pretty cool for this group to win state,” Lofink said. “They’ve never done it (none of the current Tappers were on the 2003 team), so it would be cool for this group to accomplish that.”
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