1967 STATE CHAMPIONS -- Pierre Post 8
The odds facing Pierre Post 8 and, for that matter,any of the other Rapid City challengers in this year's state tournament are no greaterthan the chances the 1967 Pierre Legion club had for any kind of success as it prepared for postseason play.
At the regional level that summer 36 years ago, the biggest obstacle was the Aberdeen Smittys, who would bring a 44-7 record---a perfect 13-0 in the ESD---into the Region 3 Tournament. One of its few losses, however, had been a 9-2 decision at the hands of Pierre. Watertown was another threat, coming into the regional with 14 wins in its last 17 games.
Once past the regional challenge, a team could expect to face Rapid City. While not yet the perennial powerhouse that it is now (Rapid had never won a state crown until 1961), the 1967 Rapid City team was considered the solid favorite to win it all. The coach, then as now a fellow named Dave Ploof, was going for his third straight championship and his sixth in seven years.
But let's back up a year.
Many of the '67 Pierre Legion players were on Don Kortan's Teeners team in 1966. It was a ballclub that posted a 26-3 record en route to the "A" Teener state crown. Pierre then whipped Beresford in the first two games of a 2-of-3 playoff series at Mitchell to earn a trip to the national VFW tournament in Hershey, Pa., for the second time in three years.
At Hershey the Pierre boys defeated River Rouge, Mich., 6-4, before losing to eventual champion Elgin, Ill., 2-0, and to Kings Mountain, N.C., 6-4. At the national level the Pierre kids faced what amounted to all-star teams from much larger cities.
So when many of these same Pierre lads became Legion players in 1967, they had had a taste of success.As the 27-game regular season moved along (more games had been scheduled but it was a rainy summer), the young ballclub, though riddled with injuries, became a pleasant surprise for their coach, Roger Pries.
Pries, best known as Riggs High's boys' basketball coach for many years, had played a lot of baseball during his athletic years but had never had time to coach. Here in Pierre he and his wife Suzanne operated the old Dairy Queen business, a 16-hour work day preventing anything like coaching in the summertime.
But in the spring of 1967 at a school athletic banquet, some fathers cornered Pries 10 days before the baseball season was to start with the news that they still had no Legion coach.
Pries said he would give it a try, and Kortan advised that he would be glad to help when he could. After a very few practices, the season began. "I give a lot of credit for our eventual success that summer to Don Kortan," Pries said. "He had practices with the team when I couldn't. My only trouble with Don was that he was so feisty he kept getting into trouble with the umpires!"
Pries said all he brought to the club was "a little organization and discipline." Brad Schiefelbein, who like Pries and a couple of the other '67 players is still in Pierre, remembers the regular season 36 years ago as not all that outstanding.
"We didn't have a very good year as I remember it," Schiefelbein said. "We didn't play anywhere near our potential until regional tournament time."
Three hitters on the team had better-than-.300 averages. They compiled a 15-12 record behind four aces of the pitching staff. Schiefelbein had a 7-2 record, Comet Haraldson was 5-2, and Larry Hoffman and Terry Burge were both 4-3.
Bob Ellwanger hit for a .317 average. Dale Misterek batted .300, Butch Huebner stood at .280, Jim Stanage .275, Haraldson .274, Dennis Sampson .273, Hoffman .266 and Joe Krier .236.
Long-range sluggers they were not. The team had only five home runs all season---two by Hoffman and one each by Ellwanger, Sampson and Stanage.
Other members of the ballclub were Rod Stoeser, Jerry Snyder, Dale Clelland and Bryan Ice.
Bill Ellwanger of Pierre was a batboy on the '67 club on which his brother Bobby played.
"I remember that team as a bunch of renegades, if you could call 'em that," Ellwanger said. "They were a hard-nosed, old-fashioned bunch of ballplayers, sort of like the old Gashouse Gang. They would scrap with each other and yell at each other when they made mistakes, especially the infielders."
Those infielders were well-noted for their ability to come up with double plays to get out of trouble, Ellwanger recalled. He said that, while they fought with each other, they fought together against the opponent, and they weren't too popular around the state.
Ellwanger remembers the '67 team as a bunch of jokesters who clowned around a lot. "They would do things like balance the bats on their noses and things like that."
"We held our own during the regular season," Pries said, "finishing third in the ESD. Rapid City pounded us pretty good a couple of times, but we also beat them once, so we knew we could play with most teams."
Pries sent Schifelbein to the mound in the regional opener at Huron, and Pierre whipped the host team, 10-2. That set up a championship game against Aberdeen, now with a 45-7 record. Haraldson had the pitching duty that night and came through with a four-hitter. He also doubled to score Pierre's first run. Thanks to an Aberdeen defensive misplay, he kept running and came all the way around on the same play for the other run in a 2-1 Pierre upset.
At the state tournament, with Aberdeen out of the way, the favorite's nod went to Rapid City. But herecame the upstart Pierre team. Burge hurled a three-hitter, striking out 10, in a 4-0 win over Brookings. Schiefelbein followed with another shutout, a five-hit 8-0 triumph over Yankton.
Haraldson was saved for the championship. The opponent, as expected, was Rapid City, and Pierre won it, 7-1.
Hyde Stadium was the setting for the playoff between "A" champ Pierre and "B" titleholder Eureka the following week. Haraldson won the first game, 4-1, and Schiefelbein accomplished the series-ending victory in the second game, 14-3, giving Pierre its first state Legion championship since 1941.
Hastings, Neb., was the host of the national regional tournament that summer. Burge was on the mound for the opener, but Pierre lost to Hays, Kan., 5-4. The next day Haraldson faced host Hastings, which led 4-1 into the final inning. With the bases loaded on walks, Joe Krier laced a 350-foot drive with "extra bases" written all over it, but Hastings outfielder John Clark made a diving catch to break Pierre's heart and send the team home. Had the catch not been made, three runs would have scored to tie the game,and the winning run would have been on third base.
"I thought we represented South Dakota pretty well," Pries said in a column written by Don Lindner. "I think any state team going into the region should go with the idea of winning. We have teams in South Dakota that can compete at that level."
Don Kortan moved up from Teeners to the Legion coaching job the next year, and he repeated Pries' feat as Pierre won its second straight Legion state championship.
Ironically, Schiefelbein recalls that the following year's team in 1969 was the best of the three he played on, but that year Pierre didn't return to the state tourney, losing out in the regional.
So it was a good thing they won it when the opportunity presented itself. After all, that is the mark of a championship team.