No. 3 Sports Story of the Year: Underdog Roughriders make regional runThe promise was there. The potential was there. All the Dickinson Roughriders American Legion baseball team needed was a little confidence. Or perhaps a swift kick in the right direction.
By: Royal McGregor, The Dickinson Press
Editor’s Note: The Dickinson Press’ Top 10 sports stories of 2012 countdown continues through Sunday.
The promise was there. The potential was there.
All the Dickinson Roughriders American Legion baseball team needed was a little confidence. Or perhaps a swift kick in the right direction.
The Roughriders’ Cinderella run at the Central Plains Regional Tournament is The Dickinson Press’ No. 3 sports story of the year.
“I thought in every tournament we played throughout the season, we showed promise,” Dickinson head coach Cory Hansen said Wednesday during a phone interview. “Everything came together at the Central Plains Regional Tournament. We got timely hitting and we had excellent pitching.”
Despite finishing second to last in the tournament in team batting average (.219), the Roughriders had the third-best earned run average at 3.98. Dickinson’s Dylan Skabo led the team with a .400 batting average hitting from the leadoff spot, while Mark Erickson followed with a .308 average and three RBIs.
The Roughriders received an automatic bid to the CPR Tournament being the host team. Dickinson’s run to the semifinals with a rematch with Omaha Pi Midwest — the eventual region champion — was an unprecedented run not seen by a host team that didn’t enter the tournament as a state champion.
Dickinson received the swift kick in the right direction before the confidence was gained. The kick came in the form of a 10-0 loss to Omaha in the final game of the tournament’s opening round on Aug. 9. The Roughriders were limited to one hit in the loss.
“Hopefully we come back (today) and hit the ball a little bit better,” Hansen said in an Aug. 10 Press article. “You can’t win on one hit. We’re going to try to put together something and hopefully we can be competitive.”
Hansen’s message was right on key.
After the loss, Dickinson made a magical run to the semifinals full of timely hits, solid pitching and dominant defense. The Roughriders quickly forgot about the 10-run loss and responded with a 3-1 win over West Des Moines on Aug. 10.
Dickinson was far from over too.
Its biggest win wasn’t the 5-1 victory over against Papillion (Neb.) on Aug. 11.
It came the following day when the Roughriders beat defending American Legion World Series champion Eden Prairie (Minn.) 6-5 in extra innings after Taylor Kraenzel’s game-winning RBI single scoring James Kary in the 10th. Not only was Eden Prairie the defending American Legion champions, they had been runner-up in the American Legion World Series the previous year. Kraenzel had a four-RBI performance, including a two-run home run in the second inning.
”I had my buddy (Brett) Schweitzer saying that I was going to do something good every time,” Kraenzel said. “Brett told me I was going to get a hit.”
Then it was time for a rematch against the big bats from Omaha, which led the CPR Tournament in nearly every offensive category, on the final morning of the tournament
Yet Omaha was faced with a completely different Roughriders team than it had seen three days earlier and they were ready to handout some payback.
Dickinson struck first after Skabo scored an unearned run from third after a double steal with Kary at first. Omaha answered in the top of the second inning with a Mike Emodi home run. The Roughriders countered with a Korey Kallenbach RBI single to center scoring Brett Braunagel.
Omaha tied the game in the fourth on Evan Ryan’s home run. The Blue Jays took the lead for good in the sixth inning after Cale Dineen scored an unearned run.
But Dickinson definitely made the game interesting the eighth inning. Kary walked with the bases loaded and one out. Skabo scored the team’s third run, but with Omaha’s new pitcher McLaine Jonas shutdown the Roughriders scoring chances.
The momentum shifted and Omaha tacked on three insurance runs in the ninth. Each team had six hits, but Dickinson’s toughest pill to swallow was its six errors that contributed greatly to what ended up being a 7-3 defeat.
”We were definitely thrilled with our performance (throughout the tournament), even today,” Kallenbach said in a Press article on Aug. 14. “We had a couple of errors, but we battled all the way through.”
The run was over. The tournament for the host team was done.
But the Roughriders, who finished the season with a forgettable 18-29, made a unforgettable impression on CPR Tournaments for years to come.
They proved the lesson every coach preaches, but few teams truly take to heart: don’t take any team for granted.
“We were the underdogs of the tournament that everyone was looking over,” Dickinson outfielder and pitcher Alex Huschka said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “After the first game, we didn’t play scared and we were just having fun.”
McGregor is a sports reporter for The Dickinson Press. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at SirRoyal.