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Sturgis sweeps Billings at home

Titans score 5 in bottom of ninth to win 12-11

Jackson Morris of Billings attempts to steal home in the bottom of the ninth, but is tagged out by Sturgis pitcher Caleb Bates.

Jackson Morris of Billings attempts to steal home in the bottom of the ninth, but is tagged out by Sturgis pitcher Caleb Bates.

STURGIS –– There is no sport being played in South Dakota more exciting than American Legion baseball, and the final game of a three-game series between the Sturgis Titans and Billings Upper Deck was a textbook example.

At 17-10, Sturgis is much improved over the team that won only a couple of games last year, according to Sturgis Head Coach Brian Humphries.

“The one thing I’ve told these guys,” Humphries said, “is hold yourself to a higher standard, play better, expect more of yourselves, expect to win.”

For a city over a 100,000 people, Billings is having a tough year, at 11-15, but given Sturgis has only about 6000 people (when the motorcycle rally is not on), it is no small task to beat a team from a city that large, let alone sweep them.

It was not only hot last Saturday in the Black Hills, there was no cloud cover and the grass was baked crispy yellow under your feet. In that heat, Sturgis beat Billings in a doubleheader, 4-2, and 10-9. Another doubleheader was scheduled for Sunday, but conditions were worse than Saturday, and so the afternoon game was canceled and the morning game was started early, to beat the heat, and lengthened from 7 scheduled innings, to 9. This would completely alter the outcome.

Billings came into the top of the ninth ahead 11-6.

“That’s what happens when you give up five unearned runs,” Humphries said.

It was so hot the Sturgis support staff was passing out free watermelon to the spectators. Those fans who braved the heat would have to say later it was worth their while.

Caleb Bates had come in to pitch relief for Sturgis. Tristen Walter had gone 7.1 innings, given up 11 hits, struck out six, but his fielders had sandbagged him by yielding those five unearned runs. Bates secured the last out of the eighth inning and took the mound in the ninth.

His second pitch to Jackson Morris resulted in a single to center. Morris would have to enjoy that moment, because the inning would end badly for him, and when he came in to pitch in the bottom of the ninth, to protect a five run lead, things would get even worse.

But at that moment there was no indication the bad stuff would happen. Especially when switch hitter Alex Vaughn drove the next pitch into right-field, Morris advancing to second.

Tristen Myers fouled off the next two pitches from Bates, took a ball, and then smacked a groundball to the shortstop Walter, who had switched to that position after Bates relieved him as pitcher. Walter started a double play which advanced Morris to third. Two outs.

When Sturgis catcher Brian Duran had to chase down a Bates pitch to Andrew Morgenstern, Morris attempted to steal home. Bates raced to the mound, and when the cloud of white dust had cleared, he had tagged Morris out to end the inning. It was close, and the loss of that scoring opportunity would spell the difference.

This brought up the fateful bottom of the ninth. After battling Morris for a bit, Carl Nash hammered the ball to center, and while sprinting around the bags, the umpire impeded his progress, or he might have had an inside-the-park homerun instead of a triple. This was the first mistake the umpire would make.

Morris then walked Bates on five pitches.

Manny Gallosa then singled, driving in Nash, advancing Bates to second. It was now 11-7, Upper Deck.

Chance Fine then grounded into a fielder’s choice, advancing Bates to third, but Gallosa was out at second. He was actually safe; this was the second mistake the ump made. But—Gallosa should have slid into second. Had he done so, he would have been safe under any conditions, because by staying on his feet he slowed himself down and got to the bag late. So, instead of bases loaded, no outs, Sturgis had runners at first and second, one out.

Josh West then popped up to shortstop, and Sturgis had their backs against the wall, in withering midday heat, still trailing by four with two out.

But Alex Keffeler jumped on the first pitch from Morris and doubled to leftfield scoring both Bates and Fine. It was now, 11-9, Upper Deck.

Nick Anderson was up next, and rapped the next Morris pitch into left, advancing Keffeler to third.

Morris was fooling nobody at this point. Duran singled his first pitch to the left-fielder Meyers, and Meyers had his troubles fielding that single, and so Anderson went to second on the error, and Keffeler scored on the error, and when Meyers had even further trouble fielding that single, Anderson scored as well. Score, 11-11, all tied up, one out remaining.

Morris tried to buckle down. He started with a strike on Jarrett Keffeler, but then after three straight balls, Jarrett singled to center, advancing Duran to third.

Morris got two strikes on Nash, then threw a ball, and then Nash got a piece of the third strike, to stay alive. The next pitch turned into a line drive to center, and Duran waltzed home from third, Billings Catcher Karson Zeiler walking away in resignation. Sturgis had rallied to win, 12-11.

Sturgis next plays Friday night against a local amateur team, the Black Hills Athletics. Game starts at 7 p.m.

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com)

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