Did anybody expect the Crofton Bluejays to be state champions?
If you ask anybody familiar with the South Central League — players, coaches, managers, fans, umpires, etc. — the answer would probably be something like, “We knew they could make a run again…..”
That’s exactly what Crofton did, claiming its first amateur baseball title since 1972 with an 11-8 victory over Tabor in the Class B title game of the South Dakota State Tournament on Sunday in Mitchell.
The question now is, how did the Bluejays, who lost in last year’s championship game, do it?
How did a team that was the No. 3 seed in its district tournament roll through a state tournament field that included the likes of Dimock-Emery, Dell Rapids (Mudcats and PBR), Parkston, Larchwood, Wynot and Tabor?
Crofton boasts a staff that includes Scot Donner, Mike Sturm, Bill Guenther and Seth Erdmann. Guenther is an amateur veteran, while Sturm is quickly becoming a legitimate ace, and Donner is a college standout from Iowa Western CC.
Donner earned two complete game victories in the state tournament to earn MVP honors, and put together a 2.70 ERA in 20 innings, with 20 strikeouts.
Sturm picked up three wins, with a 4.95 ERA in 20 innings. And Guenther pitched six strong innings in a semifinal victory over Larchwood.
When you have a mix of experienced veterans and quality youngsters who can all field the ball and won’t make many mistakes, you’ve got yourself a dangerous team.
In five games at the state tournament, Crofton committed only five errors.
More than that, the outfield of Aaron Losing (left), Nick Hegge (center) and Kyle Mueller (right) had a handful of amazing diving catches to save big innings. Each outfielder has legitimate speed, which drastically cut down on doubles and triples in spacious Cadwell Park.
Behind the plate, catcher (and manager) Carl Schieffer has many years of experience working with a pitching staff. Though he doesn’t have the best arm in the world, not many balls get by, under, or around him.
3. Middle of the Order
Crofton consistently trotted out a batting order that had Hegge and Losing in the 3-4 spots, respectively.
And the left-handed sluggers didn’t disappoint.
Hegge batted .500 (13-22) with six RBI, while Losing batted .500 (10-20) with nine RBI. Each hit a crucial home run in the semifinal win over Larchwood, highlighted by Hegge’s go-ahead 2-run homer to put the Bluejays ahead for good.
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When you put all that together, it’s no wonder why Crofton was able to make another deep run at the state tournament.
The scary thing is, the Bluejays very well could do it again in 2012.