SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Last Sunday, Aug. 11, the employees at a Sioux Falls hotel were not happy with the Fargo Post 2 baseball players.
Post 2, fresh off their American Legion Central Plains Regional championship, had just jumped into the hotel's swimming pool together, uniform and all. They kept their drenched uniforms on and continued to celebrate in the hotel pool after defeating Excelsior, Minn., twice, advancing to the American Legion World Series. Post 2 will take on Idaho Falls Post 56 in the first round at 3 p.m. Thursday in Shelby, N.C.
"The workers got mad, but we were too happy to care," Post 2 third baseman Drew Sandy said.
Drew and his brother Zach Sandy were two of those players. Thirty years prior, Tim Sandy, father of Zach and Drew, took a plunge into the hotel pool with the 1989 Post 2 team after clinching a trip to the Legion World Series.
"I told them, if you guys win this, do what we did 30 years ago," Tim said.
Tim and some of his teammates from that '89 team had been reminiscing about that experience in their group text message thread. They discussed how cool it would be for this season's Post 2 team to have that same experience.
"We said, 'Wouldn't it be neat?' But we all remembered that run," Tim said. "Some of us still had our cleats on and we jumped in. ... But I'll never forget the pool coming off of that bus and how great that was."
"My dad tells us stories about jumping in the pool with the uniforms on and it gives me goosebumps," said Zach, who went 13-for-23 in the regional tournament.
The 2019 Post 2 team had its backs against the wall at the regional tournament. Excelsior defeated Fargo 17-11 in the opening round of the regional tournament.
Entering championship Sunday, Excelsior had outscored opponents 45-14 through four games. However, Post 2 shut down the high-powered Excelsior offense for two consecutive games, winning 8-0 and 3-2 to take the title. After that first-round loss, Post 2 surrendered two runs or less in every game through the rest of the tournament and outscored opponents 38-5.
Drew said the team didn't feel too much pressure entering the first title game, but that changed after Post 2 forced a second championship game.
"For the first game we were like, 'let's just play good and see what happens. If we get the win, we just have to focus up for the next one,'" Drew said. "The next game was a little more nerve-racking. It was the last game to go to the World Series, the nerves were very high."
Zach said there were several players on the team who had been playing at the same level for several years. A common theme with them is they got so close to the biggest stage, but narrowly missed. He recalls coming up one win short of the Little League World Series and one game short of the Babe Ruth regional tournament.
"We kinda have that history of coming up short," Zach said.
Not this year.
"None of us wanted to go home," Zach said.
'One time for Randy'
After Brandt Kolpack hit a sacrifice fly to give Post 2 a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning of the decisive second championship game against Excelsior, Austin Manuel pitched the top of the seventh to close the game.
Manuel struck out an Excelsior batter looking to end the game. Tim was sitting behind home plate and knew the pitch was coming.
"I had a feeling he was going to get him," Tim said. "And my thoughts were this, I said in my mind, 'One time for Randy.' And that was for (Post 2 head coach) Luke Rustad's dad."
The Sandy family was at mass the night before and ran into Luke's mom.
"I said, 'We need (Randy) to help us out there tomorrow,'" Tim said.
Randy Rustad passed away in 2015. He was Tim's history teacher at Fargo Shanley High School and an assistant coach with Post 2. Tim said he still remembers every state capital because of how well Randy taught them.
"The best teacher I had," Tim said. "Just how he talked, it was all about repetition. ... My boys are lucky they've had Luke Rustad as a high school coach and now as a Legion coach."
Randy was an assistant coach with Post 2 for part of Luke's time at the helm. Though Randy was not in the dugout with Luke and the rest of the Post 2 club, Luke felt his presence.
"My dad was a huge influence and mentor to me as a young coach," Luke said. "He helped me to be a better coach when he was an assistant. It's pretty special because I know my dad always wanted to go to a World Series."
"It's pretty surreal," he added. "Pretty tough to put into words."
'Do they even need me anymore?'
Drew's path to the Legion World Series didn't come without a couple curveballs along the way.
At the end of the high school season and beginning of the Legion season, Drew "felt something go" in his elbow. After an MRI in the first week of June, it was determined that Drew had tendinitis, causing him to miss much of the regular season.
Post 2 was ripping off win after win with Drew on the bench.
"He was getting discouraged because the team was so successful," Tim said. "He was saying, 'Do they even need me anymore?' These are the lessons sports teaches you. You're playing, you play your butt off for your teammates, and if you're not in the lineup, just be a great teammate. That's what he was faced with, because it wasn't getting better."
Eventually, after rehabbing and having a patient coach in Luke helping to get him back on the field, Drew did get better.
After Post 2's regional championship, Drew and Tim shared a moment.
"He comes up to me and he's like, 'Finally did it,'" Drew said. "Sometimes I complain about the sport, and I got hurt and I stuck with it and he's proud of me for it."