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An 'unbelievable' experience for 1964 Salem state championship team

SALEM -- It's funny how a triple play can change the momentum.

In the 1964 state amateur championship game, Salem trailed Rapid City 4-3 and turned a triple play off a caught bunt attempt in the eighth inning. After turning the triple play, the team never looked back as it went on to score six runs and take a 9-4 lead going into the final inning.

"It happened so fast," said former Salem third baseman Keith Sabers about the game-changing play. "They had the bases loaded and they tried to bunt. To this day, I still don't know why they did that."

This year's 2014 South Dakota Class B state amateur baseball tournament marks the 50 year anniversary of the 1964 Salem amateur baseball team that won the state championship in Renner.

"I thought we were very underrated. We played great defense," Sabers said. "The whole town backed us, and I bet 80 percent of the town watched us play in the state championship game. It was just unbelievable."

Sabers said 1964 was the first time the Salem team made the state tournament and that was a big accomplishment because only one team from each conference made it to state back then.

"To win the first time we got there, over Renner, Rapid City and Larchwood (Iowa), it was like we over-achieved," Sabers said. "After we won it again the next year, I finally thought we really belonged here."

Salem backed up its 1964 state title with another championship in 1965. That year, Salem defeated Lake Norden in the title game 9-4 with Bill Iverson striking out 13 batters.

Sabers still remembers how many people came out to watch amateur baseball games, and said when Salem played Canova on a Sunday night, close to 700 people filled the seats.

"It was just amazing," Sabers said, adding he doesn't follow South Dakota amateur baseball much anymore but still loves the sport. "Everybody went, high school kids, adults, it was just the place to go."