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McCook/Miner Legion motivated for state tournament

McCook/Miner's Trent Kingsbury tags out Scotland/Menno's Braden Wolfe at second base and looks to home plate on June 27 in Canova. (Ryan Deal / Republic)

CANOVA—The McCook/Miner Legion baseball team's consistent play through the season has culminated in a return trip to the Class B state tournament in Redfield.

McCook/Miner is 21-1 this season, coming off a perfect 4-0 record at the Region 5B tournament as it outscored its opponents 54-8. M/M held its opponents to 17 hits, which is how many M/M had in the first game of the tournament, though that wasn't a surprise to manager Mike Gassman.

"I kind of had a feel of what we were doing, and what we had to do," Gassman said. "(Our team has) been real consistent all year long. We've improved quite a little from when we started."

McCook/Miner starts the double-elimination state tournament against Tabor at 4:30 p.m. on Friday in Redfield.

Gassman's confidence is backed up by McCook/Miner's deep pitching staff, something that helps in a tournament with a pitch-count limit.

"It's a huge advantage (to have a deep pitching staff) because of the fact you can rotate them out," Gassman said. "With this 105 pitch count, you can use different pitchers in different situations, and you can still end up having the same pitcher two days down the road."

McCook/Miner has four starters who have all pitched more than 20 innings this season, including Mitch Kramer who leads the team with a 0.73 ERA and Cole Gassman leading the team with 55 strikeouts. Blake Klinkhammer has two saves in his only two relief appearances.

"That's probably another advantage to our game—we have a lot of pitching we can go to," Mike Gassman said. "If things ain't falling right for one guy, we can just go to the next guy and see if he can get the job done."

Kyle Tuschen (.431), Sam Arend (.413) and Cole Gassman (.406) are all hitting over .400 for the season, while Arend also leads the team with five home runs, 15 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs. Nine M/M hitters have driven in at least 10 runs this season.

"Our whole lineup is pretty solid, as far as batting. It's probably one of the better batting teams I've had," said Mike Gassman, who has been coaching Legion baseball for seven years. "I start nine guys, but there's probably 11 guys I could start and (our offensive success) wouldn't change at all."

Mike Gassman attributes a lot of the production to the experience gained in last year's semifinal run, which is why he doesn't see M/M's offense slowing down anytime soon. Experience and veteran leadership helps keep M/M's nerves to a minimum, as well.

"It's a big plus," said coach Gassman on M/M's state tournament experience. "It got them all a taste of it. It got them all hungry for what they really want. I'm hoping we go out there and make some noise."

And while coach Gassman thinks there could be added outside pressure to win because of M/M's experience, he's not worried about his team buying into it.

"It probably does (add pressure), but I think these guys just like to go out there and (play baseball)," Mike Gassman said. "They like to go play the game. I don't know if it's pressure, but they want to go out and win the thing."