SHELBY, N.C. — For the first time in its 91-year history, Fargo Post 2 will be playing for an American Legion baseball World Series championship.
With an 11-4 semifinal win over Destrahan Post 366 (La.) Monday night, Aug. 19, at Veterans Field at Keeter Stadium, Post 2 advanced to Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. championship game against either Idaho Falls Post 56 or Danville Post 210 (Ill.) — two teams that played in a late semifinal game Monday night.
The championship game, which will feature a team from North Dakota for the first time, will be televised on ESPNews or streamed online at ESPN3.
“We get to play the last game of the season, unbelievable to say you’re going to do that,” said Post 2 coach Luke Rustad. “We’ve got an opportunity to do something no one in our state has ever done.”
Post 2 woke up Monday with a 1-1 record in pool play, fighting desperately for a spot to advance. A win in the suspended Game 11, a favorable result in Game 12 to seal a runner-up spot in the Stripes pool and an 11-4 win in the Game 13 put Post 2 into Tuesday’s national title game.
Post 2 got hits from eight of its starters in the balanced effort.
In the top of the first, Zach Sandy was hit by a pitch and Zach Kluvers hit a double to send him to third. A wild pitch and a single by Cole Hage brought both home. Fargo loaded the bases with a pair of singles, but second baseman Gavin Freeman made a fantastic stop to keep the ball in the infield to prevent a run. One pitch later, Josh MacCord induced a double play to end the threat.
In the bottom of the third, the rain came for the second time in as many days with Fargo on the field. The delay was just under 3½ hours.
Fargo got two quick outs in the bottom of the third but Destrehan got singles from TJ Thomas and Gavin Freeman and a walk to Nick Lorio to load the bases. Cory Cook dropped a looping single to left-center to bring home two and tie the game. Destrehan had multiple near-misses down the left field line including two hard-hit balls destined for the corner that just fell foul.
Post 2 had its own two-out rally in the top of the fourth with two outs surrounding a walk to Chandler Ibach. Zach Sandy doubled and third base coach Lucas Rustad wisely held up Ibach at the last second to set up runners on second and third with two outs.
Kluvers, Cole Hage, Blake Anderson and Brayden Koenig all hit the ball hard on the ground to reach base in consecutive plate appearances to bring home three more runs and make the score 6-2.
North Dakota added two more to their lead in the fifth when a Kluvers double down the left field line fell just between the line and a diving defender, scoring Caden Headlee and Zach Sandy.
In the bottom of the fifth, the first four batters walked for Destrehan to bring a run home, but two big outs by Austin Manuel nearly stymied the threat. Ron Franklin had a clutch single to bring one more home to make the lead 8-4 before Manuel worked out of the threat.
With a runner on first in the top of the sixth, Brandt Kolpack ripped a double, Drew Sandy walked and Ibach skied a ball over the retreating right fielder to bring home two more Fargo runs. A wild pitch brought home another run, giving the game its final score of 11-4.
“It was a total team effort,” Kluvers said. “We wanted to get this win and get to the championship game.”
“I just felt they were just playing baseball,” coach Lucas Rustad said of North Dakota’s long day. “They were confident. We just played solid baseball. Today was just really good approaches and we didn’t chase many pitches outside of the zone. When we got pitches we did a good job finding holes.
“It means a lot to me,” Rustad said. “This is this program’s fourth trip to the World Series and not a lot of programs have had the privilege to be here. I expect our kids to play a good hard-nosed game and exceptional baseball.
“It’s a blast. There have been so many teams through North Dakota’s history and to be the first team to make it (to the national championship game) is incredible.”
Earlier on Monday in the continuation of Sunday night’s suspended, Post 2 built upon its 5-1 lead with four more runs Monday morning to defeat Shrewsbury Post 397 (Mass.) 9-1.
Colton Frey pitched 2⅓ innings for Post 2, allowing two walks and an unearned run on Sunday before the rain came. Zach Sandy took over on Monday and allowed only one hit, taking a combined no hitter into the seventh inning, before closing it out.
It is the 13th one-hitter in American Legion World Series history and the second year in a row that the World Series has seen a one-hitter.
On Monday, it only took two pitches for Post 2 to get out of the third inning, including a pickoff at second by Sandy, and immediately made Shrewbury pay in the top of the fourth. That’s when Blake Anderson launched a three-run homer over the left field wall to make it 8-1.