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Sunshine League shaping up in familiar fashion

Dimock-Emery pitcher Josh Engquist, front, throws a pitch in a Sunshine League game against Alexandria Thursday in Emery. Also Pictured is Alexandria’s Cole Wenande, back. (Nick McCutcheon/Republic)

The early portion of the 2014 Sunshine League amateur baseball season is shaping up similarly to the way the 2013 season ended.

The release of the first 2014 South Dakota Class B amateur baseball poll Wednesday saw Alexandria on top after winning the state championship last year. The Angels were followed by Sunshine League rivals Parkston Mudcats and Dimock-Emery at second and third, respectively. All three teams reached the Class B semifinals in 2013.

The continued success of the top three Sunshine League teams has several other teams in the league looking for ways to climb to that level.

Tripp-Delmont co-manager Bryce Roth said he is glad to see so many quality teams in the league, as it gives his team a chance to play against the state’s best on a regular basis.

“When you play against the best, it makes you better,” Roth said. “Those teams are there for a reason. They have been playing ball together for a  long time and they know how to win.”

Tripp-Delmont is 2-4 in the Sunshine League this season and is coming off a win over Corsica/Stickney Thursday. Roth said Tripp-Delmont is starting to show signs of consistency that are encouraging for the rest of the season.

“For the rest of the teams in the league, I’ve seen a lot of improvement,” Roth said. “But to get to the top of the standings, we have to play error-free baseball.”

Playing clean baseball and getting the big hit when opportunities are presented is crucial, as the Sunshine League is home to some of the top pitchers in the state.

Mount Vernon, which is 0-4 in league play and has struggled to get games in this season around player shortages and weather, is seeking its first win of the season. Manager Eric Denning said the trend of teams at the top goes in cycles. Despite Mount Vernon’s recent trouble, the team had a strong runs of success in the past, winning the district five times from 2003 to 2009. Mount Vernon does not have enough players to play non-league games, according to Denning, which has hampered the team’s ability to get into a rhythm on the field.

Denning added that the top squads in the Sunshine League include a number of strong college baseball players, including some experienced pitchers.

The defending champion Angels know how important strong pitching is to success. Alexandria boasts one of the top rotations in the area, led by former South Dakota State right-hander Trever Vermeulen, who most recently struck out 15 batters in a win over Dimock-Emery Thursday in Emery. The Angels also have the services of former Augustana College standout Tyson Gau on the mound.

Dimock-Emery’s Kyle Larson is another top pitcher who needs to be contended with. Larson joined the Raptors after a strong senior season with the Dakota Wesleyan University baseball team, where the left-hander helped lead the Tigers to a second-place finish in the 2014 Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament.

The Mudcats have been been led by their strong lineup, which includes Jeff Harris, Pat Harris and Trevor Freudenthal, each batting over .460.

“I would say Parkston has probably the best lineup out of the top three teams, while Alexandria likely has the best pitching right now,” Denning said. “Larson is certainly very good from Dimock-Emery.”

Alexandria sits in first place at 9-1 overall and without a loss in Sunshine League play, while the Mudcats (15-2) and Dimock-Emery (12-4) each hold two losses in league play. The Mitchell Mad Dogs (6-1, 4-1 SL), who compete in Class A, are just behind the Angels with one loss. The Mad Dogs hold a win over Dimock-Emery and play Alexandria at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Cadwell Park in Mitchell.

“Our league has been getting better and better over the last few years,” Mudcats manager and Sunshine League President Dave Roth said. “I think our whole league has improved from top to bottom.”

Sitting tied for fourth in the Class B rankings is Canova (6-7), which handed the Angels their lone loss of the season. Canova manager Dave Gassman said it is important for his team to see the top teams from the Sunshine League during the season to get prepared tournament play.

“When we play our non-league games, we always try to find some of the best teams in the area so we can face good pitching each time we go out there,” Gassman said. “Then, when you get to the state tournament, that is what you’re used to.”

Gassman added the Cornbelt League, which Canova competes in, stacks up well against the Sunshine League.