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Canova claims Class B state title

SIOUX FALLS -- What a difference a year makes. Last year, the Canova Gang failed to qualify for the Class B amateur baseball state tournament. This year, Canova took down Flandreau, 10-2, on Sunday at Ronken Field to clinch its first state title ...

Canova's Gavin Gassman slides into home to beat the tag attempt by Flandreau's Tanner Harris for a run during the Class B amateur baseball state title game on Sunday. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Canova's Gavin Gassman slides into home to beat the tag attempt by Flandreau's Tanner Harris for a run during the Class B amateur baseball state title game on Sunday. (Matt Gade / Republic)

SIOUX FALLS -- What a difference a year makes.

Last year, the Canova Gang failed to qualify for the Class B amateur baseball state tournament. This year, Canova took down Flandreau, 10-2, on Sunday at Ronken Field to clinch its first state title since 2009.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Canova outfielder Justin Miller said. “It’s hard to put in words how awesome it is.”

Already armed with a 5-2 lead, Canova (21-5) put the game away in the eighth inning. Justin Miller, who finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs, hit an RBI single to give Canova a 6-2 lead. That excited the Gang’s fans, only to lead to the knockout punch in the championship game.

Garrett Gassman drilled a grand slam over the right-field fence and let out a big scream as he stepped on home plate to send Canova fans into a frenzy. Gassman said he was looking for a fastball after seeing one to start each of his first three at-bats.

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“I went up there thinking, ‘It’s a big situation, if he gives me a (fastball) again, I got to try to do something with it,’” Gassman said. “I was finally able to elevate the ball, and I knew it off the bat. It was just awesome.”

This was supposed to be a high-scoring championship game, which was the first between two Cornbelt League members since the Gang’s 11-7 win over Dell Rapids PBR in 2009. Canova and Flandreau combined to score 87 runs in the state tournament heading into Sunday, and they combined to score 43 runs in three regular-season games. Flandreau went 2-1 against Canova in those games, but the Gang had the upper hand Sunday.

“It’s always nice to just have the two Cornbelt teams here,” Canova starting pitcher Trey Krier said. “To have that representation for your league is something special, and (Flandreau) absolutely deserved to win as much as we did.”

Krier made sure the Cardinals’ offense never got going. The left-hander gave up 11 hits, but he used three double plays in the first five innings to keep it a one-run game. He ended the day as the winning pitcher, allowing two runs (one earned) and striking out three batters in a complete-game effort. A sprained ankle suffered in Saturday’s semifinal win over Garretson led to Canova not knowing until Sunday morning if Krier would be able to pitch in the title game, but he still joked how his ankle took his mind off his tired arm.

Krier joined Canova this season and made his presence felt, culminating as the tournament’s MVP. He finished the tournament allowing two earned runs over 19 innings (0.95 ERA) and striking out 11 batters. He also went 6-for-14 (.429) at the plate with five RBIs.

“It’s definitely a team deal,” Krier said. “Put the ball in play enough times, and you have to rely on your teammates to make those plays. The MVP is just another good award for the Canova Gang.”

Bret Severtson held Canova scoreless through four innings, but the Gang’s bats could only be kept at bay for so long. After only advancing one runner into scoring position through the first four innings, the Gang scored two runs in the fifth, thanks to Justin Miller and Dell Rapids Mudcats player Trevor Freudenthal hitting back-to-back singles to give Canova a 2-1 lead.

“I just try to keep it simple,” Justin Miller said. “I know a lot of people are looking for me to do something, and I go up there with a mindset that I got their back and they got mine.”

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Canova’s hitting stayed contagious in the sixth. The Gang loaded the bases to to start the inning, then Gavin Gassman was hit by a pitch. Severtson found his command to limit the damage, but Canova still hit a sacrifice fly and RBI groundout, giving it a 5-1 lead.

Mitch Foster hit a first-inning RBI double and Severtson tried to lead the comeback at the plate in the seventh as he hit a one-out RBI single for Flandreau’s only runs of the game.

“The goal every year is to get here, get to the state tournament,” Garrett Gassman said, “And not being able to do that last year was heartbreaking. … This was always the goal, but we didn’t expect this right away.”

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