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Canova hopes well-rounded team brings back-to-back state titles

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Parkston's Will Lutjen safely steals second as Canova's Tim Gassman is just a hair late applying the tag during a game in the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Tournament in Sioux Falls.

CANOVA -- Whether Canova can duplicate its performance in the Class B state amateur baseball tournament is unknown, but the start of the tournament will be much different this year.

The Gang enter the tournament on Aug. 7-18 at Cadwell Park as the defending state champions this season, and coupled with a 22-2 record, that means that none of their opponents will take them lightly. Last year, meanwhile, Canova was simply getting back to the state tournament after missing out in 2017.

Regardless of the circumstances, the Gang won’t approach the tournament any differently than last year, knowing the regular season is not always indicative of how the postseason plays out.

“You’ve got the imprint of being the state champion on your back,” Canova head coach Dave Gassman said. “But as far as we’re concerned, we’re going in there and just playing one game at a time. So many things have to go right to win a state championship that you can’t go in there overconfident. We are certainly not going in there overconfident.”

Canova rolled through the Cornbelt League without a loss, outscoring opponents 255-89, and displaying a well-rounded squad.

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The Gang has averaged .347 as a team and 10.6 runs per game, with Justin Miller (.474 average and 24 RBIs), Jared Miller (.471 and 35 RBIs) and Gavin Gassman (.435 and 14 RBIs) headlining a team that has eight players hitting .300 or better with a minimum of 50 at-bats.

The pitching staff has been improved, however, accumulating a 2.42 earned run average. Although Derek Miller (3-0) and Trey Krier (5-0) have logged more than 40 innings each, Canova has three more pitchers with at least 20 innings and two more with more than 10 to add a balance to the team.

“This is the most pitching we’ve had in quite a few years,” said catcher Garrett Gassman, who has four home runs and 35 RBIs. “We have two really good starters and a couple of really good guys go after them and we have a lot of good relief pitching. This year has been the first year in a long time that we’ve had enough pitching.”

One area to watch for the Gang is team speed on the basepaths and in the cavernous outfield at Cadwell Park. Canova does not steal bases frequently, but its 21-for-22 when they do, including a perfect 8-for-8 from Cole Gassman.

That speed also comes into play in tracking balls in the outfield defensively, while also getting an extra base when hitting a ball into the alleys.

“It’s a definite advantage to cover a lot of ground in a large park like that,” Dave Gassman said. “As deep as the park is and as much room as there is to hit the ball, there is more of an extra punch to take an extra base when you have speed like that. I think speed is a definite advantage.”

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