Mitchell Post 18 has found ways to exceed expectations in recent postseason runs, or continue to win with its back against the wall.
On Tuesday, a rare doubleheader sweep for Post 18 felt different than when it had runner-up finishes in 2017 and 2018. Or even compared to last year when it took Renner and Rapid City Post 22 -- both teams made the Class A championship game -- to knock it out.
Mitchell didn’t enter the Regional first round against Brookings on the same hot streak as previous years. It was 3-6 in its last nine games and its only doubleheader sweeps on the season came against Yankton, Aberdeen and Huron -- all teams that earned double-digit seeds and were swept on Tuesday.
A decisive third game in the Regional first round seemed plausible between No. 8 Mitchell and No. 9 Brookings -- two teams that were separated in the standings by 0.1106 power points -- but like Post 18 has shown in the past, it was playoff ready. A six-run seventh inning erased a five-run deficit to stun Brookings, 8-7, and Austin Kerr’s insurance run in the seventh of Game 2 proved crucial to stave off a Brookings comeback, 7-6.
“We knew we needed to come win, so that was kind of our mindset the whole day,” said Post 18 infielder Koby Larson, who hit the walk-off single in the first game. “We came ready to go, came locked in. We just came out ready to win two games.”
It’s the mindset Post 18 coach Luke Norden has tried to instill in his team during a rocky 23-21 season. It clicked at the right time, and will need to do so again at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday at No. 2 Brandon Valley in the Regional second round. The winner advances to the four-team state tournament.
Mitchell’s focus was never more rewarding than during the six-run seventh inning in the first game. It recorded five hits, three walks and a hit by pitch during the 11-batter frame that not only secured it a come-from-behind win but also momentum heading into the second game 20 minutes later.
“The main thing to do is work the count. You’re just looking for something you can hit, something you can drive,” Larson said. “I think everybody had a positive mindset and everybody was working toward the one goal of scoring five runs. I think we just worked well together and found ways to get on base.”
The two six-run innings that carried Mitchell to a sweep grabs the attention, but the sound defense and base running were no less important.
Post 18 committed one error in the second game and saw Ryan McGinnis throw out two base stealers. Hunter Stahle also stabbed a hard-hit line drive and threw it to second for a series-clinching double play.
In the fourth inning of Game 2, Brady Hawkins, who earned the win on the mound, hit a ball to centerfield, but turned a single into a double when he saw Brookings take its time to field the ball. Later in the inning, Colby Gillen noticed the catcher lobbing the ball back to the pitcher, so he swiped third base and later scored. Mitchell took a 6-0 lead in the frame.
“That’s all it takes to have your eyes on the ball at all times and expect those things to happen,” Norden said.
Capitalizing on mistakes has become the normal for Post 18 in the postseason, and it gave another senior-led team postseason victories to its already lengthy résumé. At the same time, it’s given younger players an opportunity to play in close games and know what it takes to squeeze out victories. It could be the key to continuing the success in future years, too.
“There’s a lot of guys that have played in postseason games for us,” Norden said. “We lost a lot of guys last year that played in a lot of postseason games for us, but we still have a bunch of guys that have played in postseason games. Experience in the postseason is truly important.”