RAPID CITY—Every year, during the second week in July, teams from all over the Upper Midwest head for Minnesota to play in the biggest tournament of the year, the Gopher Classic. After Rapid City Post 22’s stunning 5-4 home win over the Number 18 ranked team in the country, Next Level Baseball out of Asheville, NC, the Hardhats arrived in Minnesota filled with confidence.
Their first opponent was Bellevue East, who they defeated 17-3, thanks to offense like that supplied by Catcher Ridge Inhofer, who went three-for-four, including a triple and a home run. Inhofer always hit the ball hard, but it kept going right to the fielder, but not against Bellevue East. On the mound, Declan Mickley held together enough to allow the Hardhat bats to run away with the game.
Next opponent were the Sartell Stone Poneys. They stayed just ahead of the Hardhats, and the rally fans have come to expect after the dramatic finishes at the Firecracker, did not happen for Rapid City. Sartell prevailed, 5-3. Aiden Roberts did have three hits in the loss, including two doubles. Eli Kelley pitched six innings, walking only one and striking out six, but he gave up six hits and Sartell blasted two homers.
Thunder Bay, Ontario was opponent number three. Hayden Leighty gave a stellar mound performance for the Hardhats, striking out ten, walking zero, and giving up but one hit, pitching a 5-0 shutout. All Leighty needed was one run and Harrison Good supplied that in the first inning with a sac fly.
The Maple Grove Crimson were next. Post 22 came out of the blocks swinging, putting up 3 in the first, 3 in the second, and 5 in the top of the sixth, winning 11-6. Wyatt Reeder led Post 22 with three hits, Roberts and Philip Bentz each had two. Once again, the pitching, this time Lee Neugebauer, kept the Hardhats close enough so their bats could decide outcome.
On Sunday the Hardhats took on an old foe from back home, Smittys Legion, and beat them 15-3. Alex Dietrich has, had a hot bat in July and he drove in four runs on four hits. The big story was how homerun crazy the Hardhats became, homers being blasted by Hayden Holec, Dietrich, and Inhofer. These are three big boys, and if they start finding their power, that will be the best news Hardhats pitching could ask for.
From the Gopher, Post 22 will next have two double headers in Sioux Falls against Sioux Falls East and West on Friday and Saturday. The Hardhats are now 40-19, and their bats are getting red hot at just the right time.
The Post 22 17U Expos were also in Minnesota. The first opponent, the Waconia Varsity Wildcats. All Post 22 would need was a run scoring single from Ryan Neugebauer in the top of the first, but they got four more runs, and won 5-0. Rowan Fredrickson was outstanding on the mound, along with reliever Trevor Wilcox. Expos pitching is always weakened by losing their best to the Hardhats Varsity, but this younger guys are no slouches. They are learning to step it and get the job done.
The next game resulted in a close 3-2 loss to Roncalli Crimson. It went into extra innings but cam Rohlfsen won it for the Crimson with a run scoring single. Ryan Neugenauer gave up just the one hit, and face only two batters, but it was enough to take the loss.
Shakopee Senior Legion handed the Expos a 6-1 loss. Ryan Larson went almost the entire distance, took his lumps for Post 22, to help keep other arms fresh. It is tough taking on varsity squads but the Expos hold their own.
Against Elk River, the Expos jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but Elk River got to starter McCoy Ribbentrop in the bottoms of the third and fourth, touching him up for five runs, and that was all they needed in the 5-3 win.
The pattern was win one, lose one, so the Expos figured to win the next one over Watertown 17U. They did, 9-6, scoring six runs on only two hits off Watertown starter Ryan Roby. Hadley Burrus was the winner for Post 22.
The Expos are now 49-10, and like the Hardhats their forte is hitting and hoping for the pitchers to keep the game close.
The 16U Post 22 Bullets have won seven straight and are now 41-6. They had a great weekend, hammering the opposition as they beat the Colorado Slammers, 14-2; Post 302 16U Dukes, 16-1; and the Sturgis Riders, 8-0. When they stick to 16U teams, the Bullets have terrific hitting and solid pitching.
The Rapid City Post 320 Stars were also up in Minnesota. The first game was a tough loss to Mankato, 10-6. The Stars led the game 3-0 for three innings and then Mankato tore into starter Jett Wetzler, so after four innings it was 10-4. The good thing is the Stars didn’t stop playing, they kept grinding it out to the finish.
The battle against New Prague featured some fireworks. Both teams put up six runs in the first inning, as both starters got rocked. Jhett Peterson was pulled after 2/3 of an inning for Caden Benke. Benke lasted two and a third and gave up two runs, but the hero on the mound was Noah Popken, who produced four innings of spotless relief, allowing his Stars to prevail, 12-9.
After four innings against LeSuer-Henderson, Post 320 led 2-1, but in the bottom of the fifth, Ben Dressler ripped a single into leftfield, advanced to second on a wild pitch, to third on an error, and then scored on Mason Mehlhoff’s single. That was the game decider, final score, 6-2, Stars.
It’s hard to find words for the next game. These kids just went crazy, and a team just listed as the Blues, beat Post 320, 18-17. The Blues scored eight in the bottom of the third, but Post 320 came back with seven in the top of the fourth, seven in the top of the fifth, to take a 17-9 lead, but then, Post 320 surrendered seven in the bottom of the fifth, and two more in the bottom of the sixth, to lose 18-17.
Post 320 took on Legion Post 77 after that, and their bats continued making noise as they jumped out to a 5-1 lead. But the pitching could not hold that lead. And Post 77 scored 10 runs in three innings to win, 11-6. The Stars are now 21-29 and sometimes they have their moments but mostly they struggle with consistency.
The Post 320 17U Shooters have lost four in a row and are 12-31, so the Stars don’t figure to have a lot of help coming up the pipeline. The 16U Risers are at least over .500, at 22-20, and they have won three out of their last four, although their last game was an 8-0 loss to the cross parking lot Bullets.
Post 320 14U is at 15-14, but they have been hammered the two times they have played the Post 22 Cadets. They have won seven of their last eight, however. The Post 22 14U cadets are 30-10-1, because they play a lot of older teams and lose accordingly. They have won seven of their last nine, the two loses coming to the Risers, 5-1, and the Sturgis 14U Riders, 17-7, which was a very impressive win for Sturgis.
(Contact James Giago Davies at email@example.com)