The old adage you can never have too much pitching will again ring true at the South Dakota state amateur baseball tournament.
Pitching in the 12-day, single elimination tournament comes down to strategically managing innings, arms and rest. But it all starts with the first game.
“We look at game one, game two going in and decide what’s going to be our best option for game one, game two thought process and that’s really all the further we look from a strategy perspective,” Alexandria catcher/manager Chris Marek said. “Simply being it’s a single elimination tournament. You have to win the first one to play the second one. So you can’t overlook anybody.”
Marek said the Angels start with their two-game plan and build off that. They will look at potential matchups after that, but “being single elimination those matchups may not take place simply because there’s upsets and teams get beat that maybe you don’t expect to get beat and so forth. Then it’s an in-game decision based on situation, run differential at that point and so forth.”
Dimock-Emery manager Brad Bartscher shares the same philosophy.
“The old saying is you have to win your first one to move on,” Bartscher said. “But I think you need to look ahead to prepare a little bit matchup-wise and who has had success against certain teams. My philosophy is to win the whole thing you do need to look ahead, although it is important to win that first game. But as far as looking ahead you need to have the right matchups to win those games.”
Alexandria has used a strong pitching staff to make deep runs in recent state tournaments. The Angels have won state tournaments in 2013, 2016 and 2017, while also finishing as runner-ups in 2014 and 2015.
Alexandria’s dynamite pitching staff starts with Tyson Gau and Trever Vermeulen, while Jordan Gau has also logged major innings in the past. Dakota Wesleyan University pitcher Ethan Davis joined the staff this season, while Alexandria added Parkston ace Brady Nolz as a pick-up player for this year’s state tourney.
“I guess the depth of pitching is probably a key factor in our long running success at the state tournament, especially when you know you have arms you can trust in any situation to throw them in there and hopefully trust that they are going to get the job done,” Marek said.
While starting pitching is crucial at state, depth among the staff is just as key for making a deep run. Dimock-Emery’s Phil Johnson is the staff’s workhorse, but Bartscher has also worked on establishing depth throughout the year.
“Phil is obviously our ace and he’s our innings eater,” Bartscher said. “But Jason and Jared Schmidt, Drew Kitchens, Sam Pischke have been very, very important to us all year long. We played non-league games to get them more innings on the mound. They haven’t thrown a lot lately, but they are going to be ready to go just because they’ve been on the mound for a certain amount of innings throughout the year.”
And once teams get to state, there’s no holding back. There is no pitch-count rule and some hurlers will log major innings and sometimes going on short rest.
“I would say it’s more guts and finding the desire of being able to do it,” Marek said. “That last weekend, you either have to play Thursday, Saturday, Sunday or Friday, Saturday, Sunday -- potentially. That’s a tough little run there and you really can see who has the depth at that point in time. That is when it shows up.”
Managers still keep track of pitches thrown. Bartscher likes to keep pitchers between 100 and 140 pitchers thrown, while also allowing his staff to do their thing out there.
“There’s definitely a strategy behind it, but yet, when it comes down to it you give your horses the ball and let them go,” Bartscher said. “Everybody has those guys and obviously they are going to put the team on their shoulders and go out there. That’s where it starts and you have your other guys to bridge innings for you and piece it together. The teams that do that are going to have the success and have a chance to win the whole thing.”