Unique Parkston teener team headed to Class A state tourneyPARKSTON — Routine is the best way to describe Thursday’s Parkston teener baseball practice. Twelve players were scattered around the diamond, shagging balls and preparing one last time for the start of today’s VFW Class A 15-16 state tournament.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
PARKSTON — Routine is the best way to describe Thursday’s Parkston teener baseball practice.
Twelve players were scattered around the diamond, shagging balls and preparing one last time for the start of today’s VFW Class A 15-16 state tournament.
Just another evening with the guys, said first baseman and pitcher Spencer Lucas.
“We’ve played together for so many years,” Lucas said. “We just have that click that makes us play well together.”
Today in Tabor, the Parkston teener team is headed to its fifth state tournament in as many years. With a fourth-place finish, three runner-ups and a state title during that span, this specific Parkston group has had a great run competing in youth baseball.
But what makes the team even more unique is the fact that it’s been, for the most part, the exact same group of coaches and players through the entire ride.
“We’re all kind of the same people,” said catcher and pitcher Zach Scott said. “We get along really well and share the love of baseball. We have no best player on the team. We’re all good at something, and that’s what makes our team better.”
At ages 5 and 6, kids in Parkston are introduced to baseball in a city league.
Tony Kinneberg, the team’s head coach, said when the players who are still with the team started the sport, they were already further along than many of the other kids.
Kinneberg, Mike Scott and Todd Lucas have been mainstays in the dugout as the players have aged. There have been other fathers who’ve coached during the run, but the current three coaches — who each have at least one son on the team — have been there the whole way.
“I think for the most part, most of those kids came from dads who played quite a bit of baseball,” Kinneberg said.
After city league, players moved into wee-pees (8 and under) and pee-wees (10 and under). During those years, players took the field two to three times a week, competing against other local towns.
Kinneberg said there were about 30 players signed up for city league when this group initially came through the program. Now only 10 from the original group remain, and the team adds two players from the 13-14-year-old team to round out the 12-player roster.
“We’ve been playing together since probably tee-ball,” second baseman Lane Konrad said.
The majority of the players were 11 when they played in the 12-and-under state championship game for the first time. An 8-0 loss to Garretson gave the group its first taste of defeat in a title-game setting.
It only fueled Parkston, and the same team came back to win the 12-and-under title in Brandon to qualify for the Cal Ripken Midwest Regional tournament in Dickinson, N.D. The 2008 tournament is a favorite memory for nearly all of the players today.
Konrad immediately thought of a home run hit by Zach Scott in the fourth game the team played.
Scott laughed when reminded of the moment.
“There are a lot of great memories from that tournament,” Zach Scott said.
Parkston went 2-2 at the regional in North Dakota, eventually getting knocked out of the double-elimination tournament.
“It’s equivalent to the Little League World Series … and on our team it wasn’t an all-star team, it was just our Parkston kids,” Kinneberg said. “All the other states had representatives, but they were all-star teams.”
But this Parkston group hasn’t won a state championship since.
In 2009 and 2010, it made consecutive VFW Class A 13-14 state championship games, only to lose in both. Vermillion beat Parkston in 2009, and Madison was the state champion in 2010. Last year, Parkston took fourth in the VFW Class A 15-16 state tournament in Flandreau.
“The last few years we’ve been so close,” said Lucas, a lefthander. “We know we can get to the state tournament, but just to win it would be great.”
At 2 p.m. today, Parkston plays Big Stone City in the first round. Other teams at the tournament are Tabor, Madison, Vermillion, Groton, Humboldt and Dakota Valley.
To qualify for state, Parkston won all four games at the Region 4A tournament it hosted last week. It dominated its opposition, outscoring its opponents 40-5 and beating Salem/Montrose/Canova 9-1 for the region championship.
Now, in its final time playing together as a group, Parkston (17-6) is gunning for a state championship. Kinneberg has confidence in the task at hand, too.
“Out of the 12 kids we have, eight can pitch,” Kinneberg said. “And they’ve all done really well.
“The kids know their roles. They know exactly what’s expected of them.”
For at least two more years, all of the players are eligible for high school and Legion baseball, but it’s not certain the same group will ever be together again.
Zach Scott said he expects some of his teammates to focus on other sports, start working and simply quit playing baseball.
“We’re not going to have the same team again,” Scott said. “This is really the last year we’re going to be together.
“ … We’ve made the state tournament for the past three years and haven’t won it. What’s a better way to end this than to win it this time?”