The Brookings Bandits celebrate following an 11-10 victory over Sioux Falls East in the championship game of the Class A American Legion State Tournament on Sunday at Fossum Field in Aberdeen. Post 74 beat Rapid City Post 22, 3-1, earlier in the day to advance to the title game. Matt Thomas (center, with arm raised) was named tournament MVP.
• Bandits beat S.F. East, 11-10, for first state title
ABERDEEN – A “heroic” pitching effort from Matt Thomas coupled with some clutch hitting helped the Bandits win the first Class A American Legion State Tournament in Brookings history on Sunday at Fossum Field.
Post 74 beat defending champion Sioux Falls East, 11-10, in the title game following a 3-1 victory over perennial power Rapid City Post 22. The Bandits also beat East, 8-4, on Saturday, as they won four consecutive elimination games to secure the title.
Thomas, the tournament MVP, tossed two scoreless innings to earn the save in the victory over Post 15 after throwing a five-hitter in the win over the HardHats.
“I would call it nothing short of a heroic effort,” said Brookings head coach Rob Hirrschoff. “To do what he did today on short rest – a complete game in itself is huge with how much of a premium there is on keeping pitchers fresh. He did that, and then to come back, I mean, that’s not something I’m going to ask a guy to do.
“… Matt said ‘give me the ball,’ and it’s a nerve-wracking situation when you ask a guy to do that. But those are the types of efforts and things you need to win a tournament like this. Like I said, it’s nerve-wracking but it makes it easier when he says ‘give me the ball.’ That’s not something you can ask a guy to do if he’s not 100 percent into it. That shows the type of athlete, pitcher and competitor Matt is.”
Brookings tied the game at 8-all following a three-run sixth inning. Skyler Cary, who led off the frame with a double, scored when Kelby Beste grounded sharply into a double play. Three batters later, Thomas McMacken stepped up with the biggest hit of his young career – a two-run double to the fence in left field.
Matt Pejsa, Riley Bullington and Cary all singled to open the seventh and Post 74 took the lead for good on Thomas’ run-scoring single.
Kelby Beste then made it a three-run game – 11-8 – with a two-run single up the left-field line. Earlier in his at-bat, Beste hit a high fly ball to foul territory in right field; and East’s Jack Gordon intentionally let the ball drop to avoid a sacrifice fly and save a run. Beste made Post 15 pay for the strategic error.
Post 15 took advantage of a pair of throwing errors – which led directly to two runs – in the seventh to get within 11-10.
Thomas took care of the rest. He worked around a two-out single in the eighth and a leadoff single in the ninth. He struck out Jack Gordon and Reid Nachtigal for the first two outs in the final frame before getting leadoff hitter Conner Schaefbauer to fly out to Landon Busch in center to end it.
“After my first start (on Thursday), I got the loss and I just did everything to come back as strong as I could, so I ran and iced a lot,” said Thomas, who also had three hits and an RBI in the title tilt. “I mean, I just trusted my stuff today and let my defense work behind me. I didn’t have many strikeouts so they played really good defense behind me.”
The championship game was interesting, to say the least, as the teams combined for 30 hits and an uncharacteristic 10 errors.
Kelby Beste, who was listed as questionable with a knee injury going into the weekend, threw five gutsy innings after catching the first game of the day. He gave up eight runs – seven earned – on 11 hits with two walks and a strikeout.
“If you told me I’d do that before, I couldn’t have believed it,” Beste said about being able to catch and pitch Sunday. “At the beginning of the day, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to catch – I wasn’t sure if I could catch. I did whatever I could to get it loosened up and then just went with it. I changed my stance a little bit as a catcher, but I guess it worked.”
Beste also had a standout day at the plate, adding a two-run double off the fence in left during Brookings’ four-run third inning to finish with four RBIs.
“In a game like this one – an emotional rollercoaster – there were some mistakes by both teams but you’ve just got to stay with it; keep it within shouting distance and hope you can catch a break or get a big hit or whatever the case is,” Hirrschoff said. “Kelby’s hit with the bases loaded was huge, I think that sparked us. … And then Thomas (McMacken’s) hit to tie it with a big two-run double. For a young kid that we brought up, I couldn’t be happier for Thomas. That’s going to show him in his next two or three years here that there’s nobody he can’t hit. There’s no situation he can’t handle and he came up with a big hit for us. Those are the type of things that you need to have happen to win these games.”
East had the answers early in the game. Following Brookings’ four-run third, the Sioux Falls team put six on the board in the bottom of the frame to go up 7-4. Both teams scored a run in the fifth, before the Bandits scored six straight in the sixth and seventh.
Cary earned the pitching win, allowing two runs – zero earned – on one hit in two innings.
“We were going to try to grind it out with Skyler – he was doing well – but we’re better defensively when Skyler is at shortstop,” Hirrschoff noted.
Cary also had three hits and Corey Roach added two. Every Bandit starter had at least one hit.
Despite trailing for the first few innings, the Bandits stuck with their game plan.
“I think it’s just that we stayed the same the whole game, our approaches stayed the same,” Kelby Beste said. “We didn’t start swinging at bad pitches because we were down three and we trusted that we could get runners on base and runners in. If we trust that, we win; and we trusted today.
“We set our sights on this at the beginning of the year and, I mean, we followed through. It’s not even processing right now; it’s amazing.”
Austin Kost led East with three hits. Jordan Risse – the Big Stick award winner – Alex Schultz, Gordon and Reid Nachtigal had two apiece. Jon Hander notched a two-run double as Nachitgal also had two RBIs.
Schultz threw the first five innings, allowing five runs – three earned – on seven hits with eight strikeouts and four walks. Risse took the loss after giving up six runs – four earned – on nine hits with two strikeouts in four innings.
With the win, Brookings Post 74 (43-8) advances to the Central Plains Regional Tournament in Dickinson, N.D., with a berth in the American Legion World Series on the line. The Bandits open play against Lincoln Pinnacle Bank, the state runner-up in Nebraska, on Thursday at 10 a.m.
Notes: The Bandits went 5-1 against East (37-19) this season.
BROOKINGS 11, SIOUX FALLS EAST 10
Brookings 004 013 300 – 11 16 5
S.F. East 106 010 200 – 10 14 5
Kelby Beste, Skyler Cary (6), Matt Thomas (8) and Austin Koenig, Beste (6); Alex Schultz, Jordan Risse (6) and Brooks Cross. W – Cary. L – Risse. Sv. – Thomas. 2B: B, Cary, Beste, Thomas McMacken; SFW, Conner Schaefbauer, Jon Hander, Austin Kost, Reid Nachtigal.
• Brookings 3, R.C. Post 22 1
Thomas threw a five-hitter, allowing just one run – unearned – while striking out five and walking two.
Thomas also threw a complete game – a six-hitter with eight strikeouts – in Brookings’ 4-2 loss to Post 22 on Thursday. He was the tough-luck loser after giving up four runs – one earned – as the Bandits committed five errors.
In Sunday’s action, the Bandits were the beneficiaries of a big Rapid City error while staying alive with the win.
Tied at 1-all with one out in the top of the eighth, Kelby Beste was hit by a pitch and Busch singled. Konner Beste hit a groundball to Post 22 shortstop Hunter Jackson, who sailed his throw to second into right field. The potential double-play ball turned into a backbreaker, as Kelby Beste scored and Busch took third. Busch scored on a passed ball soon thereafter to provide for the final margin.
Post 22 took a 1-0 lead in the third when Wickham scored on a fielding error. Post 74 tied it up in the fourth, as Thomas scored after McMacken’s flyball to left was dropped.
Busch finished with two of Brookings’ five hits. Austin Wickham had two of Rapid City’s five hits.
Ryne Lees went 7 1/3 innings on the mound for Rapid City (42-30), giving up three unearned runs on four hits with eight strikeouts and three walks.
Every run scored in the game was unearned and no player recorded an RBI.
BROOKINGS 3, RAPID CITY POST 22 1
Brookings 000 100 020 – 3 5 1
R.C. Post 22 001 000 000 – 1 5 2
Matt Thomas and Kelby Beste; Ryne Lees, Cody Carlson (8), Jakeb Sullivan and Greg Schaeffer. W – Thomas. L – Lees. 2B: B, Landon Busch; RC, Sullivan, Austin Wickham.
• Brookings 8, S.F. East 4
Busch struck out nine while allowing four runs on seven hits in seven-plus innings; and the Bandits took control early with a seven-run first inning.
Cary had three hits and an RBI; and Konner Beste added two hits, including a two-run double. Kelby Beste threw two scoreless innings in relief to close out the game.
The Bandits scored the seven first-inning runs on six hits. Kelby Beste had an RBI single and Busch followed with an RBI double. Konner Beste notched a two-run double; Roach and Konner Beste scored on a throwing error; and Cary capped the rally with a run-scoring hit.
Hander had two hits and three RBIs for Post 15. Schaefbauer and Schultz also had two hits. Justin Underwood took the loss on the mound after throwing four innings.
In other action Saturday afternoon, Sioux Falls East beat Rapid City Post 22, 7-2, in a matchup of undefeateds. Post 22 bounced back to eliminate Sioux Falls West with a 10-9, 11-inning victory. West won the Sportsmanship Award for the tournament.
BROOKINGS 8, SIOUX FALLS EAST 4
S.F. East 100 020 100 – 4 9 2
Brookings 700 010 00x – 8 9 2
Justin Underwood, Jon Hander (5) and Brooks Cross; Landon Busch, Kelby Beste (8) and Austin Koenig. W – Busch. L – Underwood. 2B: B, Busch, Konner Beste.