'The horses to do it': Knights begin their second year with a heightened target
BELFIELD -- In their first season of American Legion action, the Belfield-South Heart Post 144 Knights captured seven victories over the summer, a result that exceeded the goals of head coach Kurt Silbernagel.
BELFIELD - In their first season of American Legion action, the Belfield-South Heart Post 144 Knights captured seven victories over the summer, a result that exceeded the goals of head coach Kurt Silbernagel.
Year one for the Knights was a work in progress. The players not only competed on the diamond but learned the basics of the sport, such as swiftly running on and off the field in between innings and understanding how to prepare for a game. With year two on the horizon, the team appears to be up to speed.
"As far as practice, we are just way more efficient," Silbernagel said. "They kind of know my system and how I expect to be setup and get into our drills. We keep it pretty simple. ... We have the advantage of (not) having a huge roster either, so it's a lot easier to work with kids individually and get a lot of reps in the batting cage and on the field."
When Post 144 begins its season on the road against Garrison on Friday, June 7, the team will feature 15 players on its opening-day roster, a figure that is down from 18 players in 2018. Of the 15 suiting up in a Knights uniform, 11 are returners. However, because of the low numbers and with some players splitting time with the area's Babe Ruth squad, the roster will be asked to play positions all over the field out of necessity.
Belfield-South Heart's versatility was a part of the 2018 campaign as well. But with some of the Knights participating in Heart River's high school baseball season, the Cougars' success over the spring is a significant difference leading into 2019 Legion season.
Capturing its first regular-season victory and the first postseason win in program history, Heart River finished the season with a 9-13 record.
"I think the expectations are a lot higher, I know the expectations are a lot higher from my standpoint," Silbernagel said. "A year of age in this group of kids makes a huge difference, just the maturity level, plus they had some success in the spring season. So they're going into the season not just happy to be on the field but we expect to win games. ... I really think that our region is ripe to make a splash here."
If the results are to carry over from the spring into the summer, the Knights will have to improve their hitting. While the Cougars did bump up their run production by nearly three runs from the year before, their 4.3 runs per game was toward the bottom-third among Class B teams.
Silbernagel is confident in his team's pitching, though, and said the rotation will consist of three, possibly four guys. He expects all of the players on the roster to contribute on the mound.
Despite all of the movement, defense will also be a team strength. Known for his bat, Cauy Shypkoski will make the shift from shortstop to third base in an effort to strengthen the infield.
"My hitting has always been pretty good, so I've been working on my defense a lot more in the last couple of years," Shypkoski said. "I'm moving to third base so one of our other players can play shortstop, and he plays a little better there than in other positions. I'm moving to third base for him, and for me, I can make the throw a little easier from third than short."
In the last week of July, Hettinger will host the District 1 tournament before the Class B State tournament gets underway in Hazen.
"I expect to win the region, and I told the kids that already, too," Silbernagel said. "This might only be our second year, but we got the horses to do it. ... I think this region is up for grabs for anybody and if we play up to our ability, I expect to win the region."