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Confident Post 18 heads west for regions

Mitchell Post 18 Legion baseball coach Luke Norden will have his team bringing their flushers this week to Sturgis. That is to say: flush the past plays and focus on the present, as Mitchell seeks to return to the Class A state Legion baseball to...

Post 18's Peyton Nash dives for a single out to left field during the first game of a doubleheader against Sheridan Post 7 on June 13 at Cadwell Park. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Post 18's Peyton Nash dives for a single out to left field during the first game of a doubleheader against Sheridan Post 7 on June 13 at Cadwell Park. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Mitchell Post 18 Legion baseball coach Luke Norden will have his team bringing their flushers this week to Sturgis.

That is to say: flush the past plays and focus on the present, as Mitchell seeks to return to the Class A state Legion baseball tournament out of the four-team Region 3A bracket, which begins Wednesday.

Mitchell (25-22) will take on Rapid City Post 320 (29-16) in the first game of the Region 3A tournament at 6 p.m. Central time Wednesday in Sturgis. Rapid City Post 22 (47-10) and Sturgis Post 33 (10-22) are the other two teams. The top-two finishers will advance to the state tournament, which begins Aug. 1 in Pierre.

Norden said his team has shown the ability to compete at every turn, including when matters become difficult.

"The traits they bring to the table to being able to set things aside and able to compete every pitch. You have to flush things, flush the last at-bat, flush an error, flush the last pitch. If you're on the mound or at the plate, we talk about going out and competing and attacking every pitch."

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In 2017, Post 18 was able to do that, as they faced elimination in the region bracket and won twice to advance to the state tournament, including a six-run comeback to knock out Rapid City Post 320 from region play. Mitchell then proceeded to win three times facing elimination at the state tournament to finish second.

There's different personnel but Norden said he feels strongly that his team is confident in itself and will have the right mindset to play postseason baseball.

"You just have the utmost confidence in everybody. We've built ourselves up on that," he said. "You have to grit your teeth and just do whatever it takes to have success."

Offensively, Mitchell is hitting .273 with a .406 on-base percentage. Drew Kitchens leads the team in batting average (.336) and runs scored (35), while driving in 23. Sam Michels is hitting .307 with 41 RBIs, while Brady Hawkins has a .324 average and 37 RBIs and is tied with Michels for the team lead in hits (47). Peyton Nash and Austin Kerr have driven in 24 and 22 runs, respectively.

On the mound, Baley Miller has a 1.71 earned-run average in a team-best 45 innings, with just 13 walks issued. Jared Miller has 36 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings with a 3.44 ERA. Hawkins, Kerr, Nash, Kitchens, Jackson Sadler, Calvin Hegg, Ryland DeVries and Koby Larson all have thrown at least 18 innings, with Nash and Larson with sub-3.00 ERAs.

And for the second straight season, a rule change is expected to make a big impact on postseason play. The Class A teams are playing seven-inning games this season, instead of the traditional nine-inning games played in previous years. The change was made at a national level because Legion baseball was one of the only youth levels playing nine-inning games.

Pitch-count rules have been changed accordingly, allowing pitchers who throw 30 pitches or less to return the next day, while capping pitches per day at 105 instead of 120. Pitchers can only appear twice in any three-day period.

Ultimately, Norden said he's fine with the change but admitted that the nine-inning format might have suited Mitchell better.

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"With the depth of our pitching staff, I think we were in good shape to go nine innings, to be honest," he said. "But the seven-inning game just heightens everything."

Mitchell played Rapid City Post 320 in a June 3 shootout, a 16-15 loss that included 32 combined hits and nine errors. Post 22 swept Mitchell in a doubleheader on June 2, while Post 18 was 2-1 against Sturgis this year.

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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