By Scott Schlaufman
After losing eight straight games to start the season, it would have been seemingly easy to write off the Valley City Post 60 American Legion baseball team.
But Saturday in Lidgerwood, the team finished second in the Section 1 tournament with a 28-1 loss to Wahpeton in the championship game.
"We started season 0-8 and not a lot of people expected us to be in this championship game, and we made a run and we got here," Valley City coach Jason Beilke said.
It was a sense of accomplishment that seemed to offset what was otherwise a difficult loss.
"It's a rough way to end it but from how we started, we've improved 100 percent," said Valley City infielder/pitcher Josh Gilbertson, who credited the late-season success to a combination of attitude and defensive improvement.
In the Section 1 championship, Wahpeton made its case for the state tournament with a 13-run first inning and never let up the intensity.
But the weekend also had a high point with 6-3 win over Harwood Friday to get to the championship game. In the win, Valley City came back after trailing 3-1 and took the lead with a five-run sixth inning.
In the loss, Wahpeton took advantage of early struggles by Valley City's pitchers.
Jaden Keys started the game and lasted two thirds of an inning.
The first eight batters had a trend. The first would get out. The next two would reach base. The fourth then hit a three-run home run.
It was a trend that ended after the second home run, which left the team down 6-0.
"From that point on, after about the second one, you could tell our attitude went down," Beilke said. "Right before the game we were ready to go.
After the second home run, Wahpeton's next 11 batters reached as the team went through three pitchers — Keys, Anthony Olstad, and Andrew Glaser — and allowed seven more runs, including a third three-run home run, before getting out of the inning down 13-0.
All 13 runs were credited to Olstad and Keys, though only six were earned.
Valley City allowed seven runs in the second, which Glaser pitched. Josh Magnuson allowed three runs in the third. Gilbertson pitched the final two innings and allowed five total runs.
Valley City's only run came in the second inning. Keys reached base on an error to start the inning. He then made it to third when Magnuson hit a double, Valley City's only hit of the game. Keys then scored on a passed ball.
The only Valley City player to reach after that was Olstad, who reached on an error in the third.
Wahpeton finished the game with 19 hits, including four home runs, two triples and two doubles.
In the game against Harwood, Valley City had to mount a late comeback.
Post 60 took an early lead when Olstad reached and later scored on an error.
On the mound, Gilbertson worked from behind at times, but limited Harwood to two runs in the third and one in the fifth.
Valley City got runners on base in the second through fifth innings but couldn't get them scored.
In the bottom of the sixth, the team looked to use patience as its main attack.
"They're starting pitcher had thrown a lot of innings in the last few days, so we wanted to be patient because he was starting to get a little wild," Beilke said. Magnuson and Brett Stearns both reached on walks. Spencer Meyer was then hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Glaser struck out, but Ben Sorenson reached on an error by the shortstop that kept a double play from happening.
Gilbertson then gave his team the lead with a double down down the third base line that cleared the bases and put Valley City up 5-3.
"Josh Gilbertson came through for us," Beilke said.
Gilbertson later scored.
Beilke said that he is looking forward to having most of the team back next season.
The team only loses Sorenson, Gilbertson and Magnuson.
"We only lose three and we have lot of Babe Ruth kids coming up," he said.