Mitchell Post 18 embraces the early mornings this weekend.
It kicks off the tournament’s day on Friday and Saturday at the usually talent-filled Gillette, Wyoming, Hladky tournament, which represents Post 18’s only out-of-state tournament this summer.
“I like our schedule playing early in the morning -- getting up, getting things started and beating the heat a little bit,” Mitchell Post 18 coach Luke Norden said.
For a pitching staff that Norden hopes throws more strikes and a team looking to end its run of split doubleheaders -- it’s happened four times this year -- Post 18 faces a couple of new foes in pool play.
Mitchell (8-7) takes on Rocky Mountain (Colo.) at 10:30 a.m. Central on Friday and Rapid City Post 320 at 1 p.m. Central on Friday, which counts toward the postseason power point rankings. On Saturday, it takes on Premier West (Colo.) at 9 a.m. Central. There will be two games -- one on Saturday and one Sunday -- against the opposite pool, too.
Norden expects “above-average” competition at the tournament, which has come to be expected when it travels out west. Post 18 received a dose of Gillette (Wyo.)’s talent this season when the Riders won, 14-3, in five innings at Cadwell Park. The Riders are in the opposite pool.
“It’s one of the farther tournaments we go to, but it’s a really easy drive,” Norden said. “We have a good relationship with the coach over there, and we’ve played some good competition over there.”
Post 18 will have to throw more strikes and have a better approach at the plate to find success this weekend -- two things Norden often preaches. The three-run performance against the Riders is more of an anomaly compared to the rest of its season, with an 8.5 runs per game average. Mitchell has scored at least five runs in 11 of 15 games this year.
It’s been led by Koby Larson and Peyton Nash each having 17 hits, while Nash has also driven in a team-high 18 runs. Jonah Schmidt (14), Brady Hawkins (13) and Austin Kerr (12) all have double-digit hits and Ryan McGinnis has drawn a team-best 11 walks in 26 plate appearances.
It’s been a pleasant surprise for Norden to see his team hitting .310 with a .468 on-base percentage, but one that leaves him surprised at Mitchell’s barely above-.500 record.
“If you would’ve told me our team was hitting .310 as a team and we were only a game over .500, I would’ve been shocked,” Norden said. “Just for the fact I thought our pitching would be a little bit better.”
Post 18 has allowed 6.4 runs per game, but it increases to 10.9 per game in losses.
“(We’re) just trying to build that consistency every time we go out on the mound,” Norden said. “Not only throwing strikes, but learning how to pitch a little bit better. Not just going up there throwing, but executing pitches. Hopefully our starters this weekend continue to go a little farther into the game and get our arm strength built up.”
Having its starters pitch deeper into games will be key to playing five games in three days, but it also would set Mitchell up well post-tournament. Post 18 has a doubleheader against Sioux Falls East on Tuesday and Pierre on Wednesday.
Post 18’s pitching staff is led by Hawkins, whose 2.50 ERA leads pitchers with at least 10 innings. He’s struck out 17 batters over 14 innings, too. Ethan Price (4.07 ERA), Jake Helleloid (4.90) and Jonah Schmidt (2.80) have all pitched double-digit innings, while Brady Brosz’s return from a week off after getting his wisdom teeth removed gives the staff an added boost. He threw three shutout innings in a win over Aberdeen on Tuesday.
“We really want to keep our reliever numbers down, so hopefully we can be more efficient there and our starters can go a little bit deeper,” Norden said. “Then our relievers don’t have to potentially throw as much.”