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Pitching staff leads top-ranked Alexandria into state

Alexandria's Trever Vermeulen throws a pitch during last year's Class B state amateur baseball tournament at Mitchell's Cadwell Park. The state tournament opens today at Sioux Falls Stadium. Alexandria's first-round game is at 7:30 p.m. Friday against Flandreau. (Luke Hagen/Republic)

ALEXANDRIA -- Trever Vermeulen started listing the teams that could make a run at the Class B state amateur baseball title.

"Larchwood, Parkston Mudcats, Crofton, Canova, Dell Rapids PBR," he said. "Dimock/Emery could turn things around. There are a list of teams that could scare anyone."

But Vermeulen, a right-handed pitcher for the top-ranked Alexandria Angels, made it clear his team is looking to withstand the rest of the field -- no matter how tough -- win five games and claim the town's first amateur baseball championship.

Today, the 81st annual single-elimination, 32-team state tournament kicks off at Sioux Falls Stadium. The first round runs today through Sunday afternoon, with the No. 1-ranked Angels (27-3) starting their quest for a title at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a game against Flandreau.

A former South Dakota State University pitcher, Vermeulen picked up two tournament victories last year for Alexandria in his first season of amateur baseball, beating Wessington Springs and Canova. Holding a 9-1 record with a 0.27 ERA this summer, Vermeulen is taking the mound Friday to open the tournament for the Angels.

"We're pretty confident," he said, "especially after districts. But we know anything can happen at the state tournament, and there's no easy road to the championship."

Alexandria's hopes for a state championship last year were foiled by the eventual-champion Parkston Mudcats. The Angels lost to Parkston on a rainy, chilly semifinal matchup in which the Mudcats went on to win 6-1.

This year, Alexandria defeated the Mudcats two out of three times, including an 11-3 win in the District 5B championship game on Saturday. Vermeulen, who has 102 strikeouts in 66 innings pitched this year, notched the win.

"Obviously pitching is the staple of our team," said Alexandria player/manager Chris Marek, whose team won 14 consecutive games in the middle of the season. "And with wood bats in amateur baseball, it's the strong point that any quality team has. But because of the strength of our pitching, our offense and defense is overlooked somewhat."

Vermeulen is one of the three main pitchers who will start for the Angels, Marek said. Tyson Gau and Cory Marek are also scheduled to make starts. Chris Marek and Thomas Gulledge will be relievers for Alexandria.

Gau did not play last year at state for Alexandria while recovering from elbow surgery, an injury he suffered at the end of his second year playing on the Augustana College baseball team.

He's been a big part of Alexandria's success this year. He has a 4-0 record with a 1.30 ERA on the mound and leads the team in batting average at .408. Gau has 37 RBIs and 14 extra-base hits. When he's not on the mound, he's the Angels' starting right fielder.

Center fielder and leadoff hitter Peyton Smith has a .366 average with 32 runs scored and 19 RBIs and Cole Wenande, a second baseman, is at .362 with 38 runs scored and 17 RBIs.

"Offensively, we're much more of a sound team top to bottom," Marek said. "We learned from last year to this year how to produce runs and what timely hitting is about. That's what I think will have the biggest impact, being able to score runs when we need them."

Besides losing a regular-season, extra-inning game to the Mudcats 4-3, Alexandria has one other loss to a Class B opponent this year. On May 14, Salem defeated the Angels 10-8 in both teams' opening action of the year. Alexandria's third loss of the year was to the Sioux Falls Brewers, a Class A team.

Salem manager/player Brian Duxbury, whose team plays Clark at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the first round, said Alexandria's pitching staff makes the Angels the favorite headed into the tournament.

"They're the No. 1-ranked team for a reason," Duxbury said.

Salem (10-14) is in its second consecutive state tournament. The Cubs, seeded eighth, defeated Harrisburg in their first District 4B game and then knocked off top-seeded Madison to qualify for state. Another local team from District 4B that qualified for state is Canova, ranked No. 2. Canova, the 2009 Class B state amateur champion, plays Volga at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in a first-round game. Canova could see Crofton -- which has made it to three straight state championship games with one title -- in the second round Wednesday.

Alexandria and the Parkston Mudcats were the top two representatives from District 5B to qualify for state this year. Other District 5B teams to qualify are the Parkston Rock Bass, Dimock/Emery and Mount Vernon.

For the second straight year, the Mudcats play in the final first-round game, coming at 1 p.m. Sunday. Manager Dave Roth's team (20-7) plays Britton.

"We're going to have to play a little better defense than we have lately," Roth said. "I'm sure we'll have a target on our back, but we've had that all year. It's nothing new."

Dimock/Emery, the 2010 state champion, plays at 11 a.m. Friday against Garretson in a rematch of a regular-season game from June 28. Dimock/Emery, which won the first meeting 11-9, will start right-hander Phil Johnson (8-3).

The Raptors were the final team to earn a state berth from District 5B, beating Platte in extra innings.

"I wouldn't say we feel lucky to get in, but we feel fortunate," Dimock/Emery manager Brad Bartscher said. "We put ourselves in that position. We're not hitting the ball well right now. But right now is a new season, and if we can come out and score runs and our pitching comes out and does well, we'll have a chance to make a deep run."

The Parkston Rock Bass are playing in their second straight state tournament and Mount Vernon is back at state for the first time since 2010. The Rock Bass play Lesterville at 11 a.m. Thursday and Mount Vernon plays at 1 p.m. Saturday against Larchwood.

Three local teams from District 3B -- Wessington Springs, Plankinton and Chamberlain -- qualified for state. Wessington Springs plays Wynot, Neb., at 6 p.m. today in the first game of the tournament and Plankinton follows at 8 p.m. tonight against Akron, Iowa. Chamberlain plays Groton at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Tabor, the 2011 state runner-up, finished second in District 6B and plays Lennox Only One at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Class B amateur state tournament first round schedule Wednesday through Aug. 18  at Sioux Falls Stadium

Wednesday Wynot vs. Wessington Springs, 6 p.m.; Akron vs. Plankinton, 8 p.m.

Thursday Parkston Rock Bass vs. Lesterville, 11 a.m.; Milbank vs. Winner/Colome, 1 p.m.; Martin vs. Dell Rapids PBR, 5:30 p.m.; Salem vs. Clark, 7:30 p.m.

Friday Dimock/Emery vs. Garretson, 11 a.m.; Lennox Reds vs. Colman, 1 p.m.; Chamberlain vs. Groton, 5:30 p.m.; Flandreau vs. Alexandria, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday Miller vs. Irene, 11 a.m.; Mount Vernon vs. Larchwood, 1 p.m.; Canova vs. Volga, 5:30 p.m.; Lake Norden vs. Crofton, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday Tabor vs. Lennox Only One, 11 a.m.; Parkston Mudcats vs. Britton, 1 p.m.

Second round: Sunday through Aug. 14.

Quarterfinals: Aug. 15-16.

Semifinals: Aug. 17, 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Championship: Aug. 18, 2 p.m.