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Montrose looking to defend

It's fair to say that no Class B team has had the pitching depth that the Montrose Muckdogs have possessed the last two seasons. Along with a very potent hitting lineup, Montrose coasted its way to a Class B state tournament title last season. Th...

It's fair to say that no Class B team has had the pitching depth that the Montrose Muckdogs have possessed the last two seasons.

Along with a very potent hitting lineup, Montrose coasted its way to a Class B state tournament title last season. The Class B state tournament opens at 6 p.m. tonight when Winner takes on Humboldt-Hartford at Cadwell Park. Montrose will take on Renner Newcastle in the second game of the opening night doubleheader.

The Muckdogs are heavy favorites to repeat this year after winning the District 4B title last week over Humboldt-Hartford. Montrose beat Lennox, Dell Rapids PBR and Humboldt-Hartford on their way to winning the district crown.

"I'd have to say Montrose is the favorite to win it again," Mount Vernon manager Eric Denning said. "They've picked up some good pitchers and they'll be even tougher this year. They have a lot of good, young kids with good arms."

Montrose has a 25-7 record going in and have arms that any team would be jealous of. The Muckdogs finished with a 19-1 record on the Cornbelt Conference. Last year was the team's first state title ever.

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Jeff Schultz, last year's Class B MVP who threw a one-hitter against Dell Rapids PBR in the championship game, is 8-0 on the season with 99 strikeouts and a 1.45 ERA in 59 innings. Not to be outdone is Nate Schwartz, who is 5-1 and has 103 strikeouts and a 2.73 ERA in 73 innings pitched. Schwartz's only loss came to the Class A Renner Monarchs. Schwartz pitched for Augustana last season.

"It's awful nice to have those guys," longtime Montrose manager Jeff DeBates said. "Pitching and defense have been our top priorities all year. Hopefully, we'll keep that going. Last year was the first time we won the district and state. We always lost to PBR in the past."

Schultz also leads the team in batting with a wicked stick. He's hitting .450 with 16 home runs and 57 RBI on the season.

"To be honest with you, I don't know what he's doing in amateur ball. He should be playing at a higher level somewhere else," DeBates said of his star player.

In addition for the Muckdogs, Jake Kloos is hitting .429 with six homers and 36 RBI and Ryan McNamara is batting .391 with five homers and 33 RBI. As a team, Montrose is hitting .321 with 34 home runs on the year.

DeBates admits that the Muckdogs will probably have a target on their back with being the defending champions.

"Definitely, there's always a target on your back," DeBates admitted. "You just have to go out and play. If we get good pitching and defense, we'll always be in the game."

Besides Montrose, Debates pointed to Redfield, Freeman and PBR as possible favorites to win the title. DeBates said he'd either start Ryan Gordon or Flandreau pick-up player Scott Johnson to start the game against Renner Newcastle. He wants to save Schultz and Schwartz as much as he can for the later rounds. Montrose has a team ERA of 3.71.

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Other first round games at the 32-team tournament include Harrisburg vs. Britton; Dell Rapids Mudcats vs. Kennebec-Chamberlain; Tabor vs. Lake Norden; Geddes vs. Redfield; Dell Rapids PBR vs. Delmont; Irene vs. Clearfield; Wessington-Miller vs. Clark; Lennox vs. Larchwood, Iowa; Crofton, Neb., vs. Sisseton; Akron vs. Wynot, Neb.; Platte vs. Burke; Wessington Springs vs. Aurora; Mount Vernon vs. Castlewood; Freeman vs. Parkston Mudcats.

The first round runs through Sunday afternoon and the second round begins Sunday night with two games.

Kennebec-Chamberlain coasted to another Pony Hills League and District 3B title again this year, but have a difficult first round matchup again this year with the Dell Rapids Mudcats.

The Cannons (24-6) lost in the first round last year to Humbolt-Hartford after a stellar regular season. KC head coach Herb Sundall admits that his team has a tough draw again this year.

"I know they're a tough team, one of the best two in the state probably," Sundall said. "We're used to the tough draws, though. We played them in the quarterfinals at state two years and they beat us in about six innings. Dells traditionally scores a lot of runs. We're going to have to score more than a couple of runs to beat them."

The one wild card KC has going for it is having former Dakota Wesleyan ace Robert Stockton on the mound. Stockton is 6-2 on the season with a 2.40 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings of work. Stockton pitched with the Sioux Falls Canaries at one point last season. Sundall said Monday he hadn't decided if Stockton would start against the Mudcats.

"With Robert on your staff, obviously you consider using him," Sundall said. "It's a terrific bonus for us to have him. He's a quality pitcher and just an intense competitor."

Besides Stockton, the Cannons also have solid hurlers in Jim Klages, Steve Rossow, Torrey Sundall and Nate Neilan. Klages is 4-1 with a 2.49 ERA, Rossow is 5-1 with a 2.87 ERA, Sundall is 4-1 with a 5.25 ERA and Neilan is 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA.

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At the plate, KC also has former GPAC baseball stars in DWU's Vinnie Caputo and Mount Marty's Cole Knippling. They also have a slew of veteran hitters who aren't slouches, either.

Klages leads the team with a .451 average, Todd Priebe is batting .438, Scott Warrington comes in at .410 and Caputo is batting .404. Bryan Rinehart leads the team with eight home runs and 38 RBI and Klages has seven homers and 39 RBI.

"Our offense has been pretty steady because we're fairly deep," Sundall said. "We don't have a lot of weak hitters. They all contribute."

Another thing KC tried to do was beef up its schedule this year so it could be ready for the tough competition at state. The Cannons played the Mitchell Stars and the Rapid City Drillers, Mount Vernon, the Renner Roadrunners, Huron twice, Montrose and Redfield.

"That's why we did it," Sundall said. "We tried to beef it up with the idea that it would help us come state tournament time."

Mount Vernon opens up with Castlewood after falling to the Parkston Mudcats 12-9 in the District 5B championship game last Saturday. The Cardinals won the Sunshine League title this year and come into the tournament with a 28-4 record.

Denning said he expects to throw staff ace Freddy Ellis against Castlewood, a team he knows very little about.

"We played them a few years back. I don't know if they have the same guys or what," said Denning. "I'm pretty sure we'll throw Freddy in the first game. He threw against the Mudcats and they had two big innings against us. They hit the ball well. It would be fun to play them in the second round again."

If the Cardinals get past Castlewood and the Mudcats get past Freeman, the two Sunshine League rivals would play in the second round.

"If we do get by Castlewood, Parkston and Freeman are both good teams," Denning said. "I do think we match up well with them. We'll see what happens. Winning the district tournament hasn't given us a good draw the last four years, so we'll see if not winning it helps us this year."

Denning said Ellis has a very low ERA on the year and has lost two games.

"He hasn't thrown a lot recently, but it's just a matter of him getting in the groove again," Denning said.

Cody Larson has led Mount Vernon at the plate this year with around a .500 average and both Jay Thaler and Ellis are hitting in the .400s. Denning said Chase Hetland and Eric Giblin have also been big contributors at the plate.

"Our young kids are playing well right now," Denning pointed out. "We have about the same nucleus we've had the last few years."

For a complete list of the first-round pairings, turn to the scoreboard section on Page 8.

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