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Chris Hill's walk-off homer caps comeback win for Plankinton Bankers over Clark

Bankers triumph in 11 innings in opening round

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Plankinton's Josh Engquist gets caught trying to steal second by Clark's Zach Toben during a game in the first round of the Class B state amateur tournament on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 at Cadwell Park. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Down 7-1 through four innings, the opening round of the South Dakota Class B amateur baseball tournament was starting to have that familiar feeling again Thursday for the Plankinton Bankers.

And then, Chris Hill made sure the Bankers were celebrating by afternoon’s end.

Hill had a game-tying two-run double in the eighth inning and a walk-off home run off the Cadwell Park scoreboard in the 11th inning to lift Plankinton to a 10-8 win over Clark in the opening round of the tournament.

Plankinton (19-1) advances to the second round to play Menno at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Cadwell Park.

GALLERY: Plankinton against Clark in first round of state amateur baseball tournament
The home run was Hill’s first career walk-off, and Hill knew he was going to see strikes batting in front of power-hitting Cole Knippling and with game-winning run Sheldon Gant already on base after a leadoff hit-by-pitch.

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“I think it was a little slide-piece and I just made good contact and it took off,” said Hill, who is one of the Bankers who shares managerial duties. “I wanted to hit because bunting didn’t make much sense, because they would have probably just walked Cole Knippling and taken the bat out of his hands too. So I was just looking for a good pitch to hit.”

The home run was the cherry on top after a six-run rally and gave the Bankers just their second opening-round win since 2017 in five tries. Thursday’s game had the tenets of past Plankinton tournament games: offensive struggles, opponents’ batting success, and the feeling that the Pony Hills League power’s time at the state tournament might be all too short.

But Hill said the chatter in the Banker dugout focused on taking the game one out at a time on defense and one at-bat at a time at the plate.

“We knew we had a chance to climb back into the game,” he said.

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Plankinton's Cole Knippling (11) celebrates a home run with his teammates including Chad Cody on his way back to the dugout during a game against Clark in the first round of the Class B state amateur tournament on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 at Cadwell Park. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Matt Gade

The comeback got a lift when Knippling bashed a three-run homer in the fifth inning, making the score 7-5 Clark. And Plankinton had a chance to win the game thanks to the relief effort of veteran Banker ace Travis Gant, who threw 7 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run on 106 pitches and striking out six.

Gant ended up throwing more pitches than starter Josh Engquist, who was chased from the game after 3 2/3 innings allowing eight hits, seven runs (four earned) and struck out four.

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“You can’t say enough about the way that Travis pitched and kept us in the ball game,” Hill said.

Hill’s double in the eighth inning came with two outs and answered Clark’s insurance run in the top of the inning, when Grayson Florey’s sacrifice fly to left field scored Rhett Florey to give the Traders an 8-6 advantage.

For Plankinton, Hill had three hits and four RBIs, while Knippling and Sheldon Gant had two hits, with Sheldon Gant scoring three times.

Clark (12-10) jumped to the big lead thanks to a two-run double in the second inning from Tyler Brinka, two more runs in the third frame and a two-run single from Andrew Magedanz in the fourth. Nicolai Arbach, an American Legion player from Lake Norden/Badger who pitched at the state Legion tournament last week, started for Clark on the mound and answered the challenge. Arbach threw five innings, allowed six hits, six runs and struck out seven. Zach Toben pitched the rest of the game for Clark, allowing six hits, four runs and striking out four, taking the loss when he allowed the 11th-inning homer.

The Traders got three hits from Brinka, plus two-hit games from Toben, Magedanz, Rhett Florey, Grayson Florey and John Koenig. Clark had 15 hits but left 14 men on base.

For Plankinton, they were able to put aside their snakebitten state tournament history on Thursday with a comeback for the ages. Hill said the win is special given that the Bankers have dealt with injuries and bringing back veteran players to fill in the roster.

“Our goals are always to go a little deeper in the tournament and that’s always in the back of our minds,” he said. “We’ve had some guys really step up for us and this team, it’s a little different but we’re having a lot of fun right now and wins like this will definitely help.”

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Plankinton's Trevor Boyd fields a pop fly during a game against Clark in the first round of the Class B state amateur tournament on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 at Cadwell Park. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Matt Gade

Related Topics: BASEBALL
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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