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Gassman says Canova playing in talented bottom bracket at state

CANOVA — Dave Gassman isn’t shy when describing the bottom half of the Class B state amateur baseball tournament bracket.

“It’s loaded,” said the manager of the No. 2-ranked Canova Gang (20-8). “It seems a little impossible that many good opponents could be in one bracket, but that’s the way it goes.”

Gassman, who’s in his 48th year of amateur baseball and 35th year of managing, leads his team against Volga in the first round of the tournament. The teams play at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the single-elimination, 32-team tournament, hosted at Sioux Falls Stadium.

Canova is one of four teams ranked in the final Class B amateur poll that plays on the bottom half of the bracket. Other top teams the Gang could meet before the championship are No. 1-ranked Alexandria, No. 3 Parkston Mudcats and No. 6 Crofton, Neb.

“When you get to the state tournament, there’s a reason everyone is there,” said Canova catcher Garrett Gassman, who leads the team in batting average at a .400 clip. “You always go in there expecting and hoping to win, but there’s a lot of tough teams.”

It’s been four years since Canova claimed its most recent state championship, coming in 2009 at Mitchell’s Cadwell Park. Each of the past three years, the Gang have run into tough competition.

After winning the championship, Canova fell in the quarterfinals in 2010 to Dimock/Emery, which went on to win the title. In 2011, the Gang lost to Crofton 3-2 in the first round, and Crofton marched on for a championship. Last year, Canova lost to Alexandria in the quarterfinals.

To get to state this year Canova went 15-3 in the Cornbelt Conference, taking second only behind Madison. At the District 4B tournament, Canova was the second representative after falling to eventual district-champion Colman in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Madison was knocked out of districts and didn’t qualify for state despite being ranked fourth in the final poll of the year.

Dave Gassman said Canova’s strength this year has been its pitching staff. Gassman is leaning toward starting Jared Hegdahl (6-0) against Volga, a team the Gang doesn’t know much about headed into the first round.

“I’m happy with our team this year,” Dave Gassman said. “I think there’s been a few times where we’ve had some lapses and didn’t play our best, but our losses have been against some formidable opponents.”

With a win Saturday, Canova could see Crofton in the second round. The Gang could face the Parkston Mudcats in the quarterfinals and Alexandria in the semifinals.

For Garrett Gassman, who’s been the starting catcher for the past six years and has played for the Gang for eight years, having a team with experience will be important.

“Most of us have been together for seven or eight years and that helps when adversity comes and you need some people to help pick you up,” he said.