SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — After losing its opening game of the American Legion Central Plains Regional tournament, Fargo Post 2 responded with five straight victories. The win-or-go-home streak was capped by back-to-back victories Sunday against Excelsior, Minn., the same team Fargo lost to in the opening round.
With a dramatic victory in the second championship game, Fargo qualified for the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., starting Thursday, Aug. 15. Post 2 advanced to the World Series for the first time since 1992.
“This is great. I don’t know what else to say,” Fargo head coach Luke Rustad said. “We finished it off. It was awesome.”
Fargo’s opening-round game in Shelby is scheduled for 4 p.m. (EST) against the Northwest Regional champion. Post 2 is making its fourth appearance in the World Series with previous trips coming in 1969, 1989 and 1992.
Fargo never trailed the entire day and shut out Excelsior 8-0 in the first game to force a winner-take-all second championship game. Excelsior was undefeated in the tournament heading into championship Sunday. The second title game was a nail-biter with Fargo taking the lead for good on a Brandt Kolpack sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth inning to help secure a 3-2 victory.
Post 2 designated hitter Cole Hage scored from third base on Kolpack's fly ball with what proved to be the winning run, breaking a 2-2 tie.
"I was trying to stick to my approach," Kolpack said. "I was trying to get a good barrel. Once I hit it, I knew Cole was scoring."
Right-handed pitcher Austin Manuel closed out the second game for Post 2, earning the win. He struck out an Excelsior batter looking to end the game with a runner on first base. That out set off a spirited Fargo celebration.
"It was the best feeling I've ever had playing this game," Kolpack said.
A pair of pitching performances helped fuel Fargo to the wins Sunday. Right-hander Taylor Parrett, who was named the tournament’s MVP, gave up just one hit in four innings in Fargo’s win over Sioux Falls on Thursday. He backed that performance up Sunday in the first game against Excelsior with a complete game, scattering five hits with 10 strikeouts.
In Game 2, Jonas Sanders pitched 4.2 innings and gave up four hits with two strikeouts. In Fargo’s opening-round loss on Wednesday, Sanders pitched four innings in relief after Post 2 was down by six runs.
“Taylor threw the best game he has all summer, hands down,” Rustad said. “Jonas came back and he told me after Day 1 of the tournament that if we get to the championship game, ‘Put me in. I’ll win. I’ll win.’”
But both pitchers also got big plays from their defense.
Leading 2-0 in the fourth inning of Game 2, Excelsior threatened when William Sturek and Michael Sturek both doubled to start the inning and the lead was cut to 2-1. After Sanders walked the next batter, Excelsior had runners on first and second with no outs. But for the fourth time in two days, Fargo turned a perfect double play from Zach Kluvers, Kolpack and Blake Anderson, and the Excelsior threat was doused. One batter later, Sanders got Isaac Fuecker to fly out, and Fargo held a slim one-run lead.
Rustad said Fargo has played with comfortable leads for much of the season, and mistakes on defense haven’t caused them to lose games.
“That’s as good defensively as we’ve been all season,” Rustad said. “We weren’t playing very solid D back in June, and I told the guys if you want to go to where you want to get to, we have to be better on defense. The only reason we were winning is because we had big leads.”
Fargo (51-6) didn’t have an error the entire day against Excelsior and committed three in all six tournament games.
“I told them it’s going to get harder and you’re going to have to make plays. I don’t know when it exactly clicked, but it has,” Rustad said. “There was a point in the season when we started playing great defense, and that’s made the difference. I don’t know, maybe it was just a confidence thing.”
After getting the 8-0 victory against Excelsior to start the day, Fargo set the tone early in the second game after lead off batter Zach Sandy, who finished the tournament 13-for-23 from the plate, singled after beating out a throw from shortstop Jarod Wandersee.
Wandersee made a diving stop behind second base, but Sandy’s sprint to first base got him the hit. He later got to second on a balk, and third on a passed ball. A sacrifice fly by Kluvers scored Sandy, and Post 2 never trailed.
"It means a lot, just to be part of the history of Post 2 baseball," Rustad said. "We've been to regionals before and not gotten it done."