A record-setting year for Idaho Falls, Idaho Post 56 culminated in a perfect way as the Bandits won the American Legion World Series on Wednesday morning with a 5-3 victory over Fargo, N.D., Post 2.
Idaho Falls navigated a difficult path to even make the World Series, winning four straight elimination games in the regional tournament, including an extra-inning affair in the title game. Once in Shelby, N.C., the Bandits swept all three pool play games, won their semifinal on Monday and captured the crown on Wednesday morning in the conclusion of a suspended game from Tuesday night.
This is the first American Legion World Series win for a team from the state of Idaho.
In the top of the first Tuesday, Fargo worked very difficult counts and got the scoring started. Zach Sandy fouled off two tough pitches already in an 0-2 count before forcing a difficult play at short, reaching on an error. A groundout moved him over to second and a single by Cole Hage on a 1-2 count put runners on the corners. After an out, Brayden Koenig grounded one the opposite way through the hole for an RBI single. Brandt Kolpack followed with a single of his own to make 2-0. All four runners to reach base in the inning had two strikes on them.
Idaho Falls had three batters reach in the bottom of the frame, and just like Fargo, all three did so down to their last strike. Bruer Webster led off with a single and Alex Cortez did the same. A wild pitch moved both over and Randon Hostert brought a run home with a hard-hit ball that forced an error. Starter Blake Anderson settled down and got a key strikeout and flyout to end the frame.
Three pitches into the top of the second inning, the rain came, forcing a delay at 7:08 p.m., ET., and ultimately a suspension in the game until Wednesday at 10 a.m.
The two starting pitchers, Hostert and Anderson, would not return to the mound Wednesday and would be replaced by Andrew Gregersen and Colton Frey, respectively.
North Dakota went quietly in the resumed second inning. With one out in the bottom of the frame, Idaho loaded the bases with a Nick Layland single and walks to Brady Owens and Bruer Webster. Alex Cortez followed with a groundball deep in the hole at shortstop for a single and Tavyn Lords brought home two more with a single to right center.
Fargo loaded the bases in the top of the third, but a lineout to shortstop forced a double play.
With a runner on first in the bottom of the frame, Idaho’s Jaxon Sorenson lined a double over the head of the right fielder, putting two runners in scoring position for Nick Layland, who hit one deep enough to center to bring in one run on a sacrifice fly.
Both teams got a runner on in the fourth but went quietly. After a quiet top of the fifth, Idaho Falls got two on in the bottom of the frame but reliever Andrew Linn got out of trouble.
An error and two walks loaded the bases for North Dakota in the top of the sixth, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. Gregerson battled Zach Kulvers to a full count and got a popup to foul ground down the right field line. Webster ranged over and made the call, ending the inning and the threat.
Idaho had a two-out rally in the bottom of the frame, putting two on, but couldn't add to their lead.
In the top of the seventh, North Dakota put two on and Brandt Kolpack singled to bring home Hage. Gregersen got a key strikeout and a ground ball from second baseman Bruer Webster to first baseman Randon Hostert to seal the victory.
"It's unbelievable, we did it for our state. I love where I live, I love the state of Idaho. It means a lot to bring the title back." Webster said. "[The last play] was in slow motion. You kind of black out when you field it before you make the throw. It was crazy."
Gregersen finished with 6.0 innings, five hits allowed and just one run, striking out six.
"I honestly was suprised to hear that I was the one going out to pitch, but I knew that everyone would have my back behind me," Gregersen said of his relief appearance.
This marked the third straight year that Idaho sent a team to the American Legion World Series and ninth appearance overall. Only two of the other eight programs to make the World Series made the title game. Pocatello lost, 23-6, in the first World Series in 1926 against Yonkers, N.Y., in Philadelphia and Lewiston Post 13 dropped a 5-2 decision to Brooklawn, N.J., in 2001 in Yakima, Wash.
Idaho Falls ends the season at 61-6. Fargo, the first North Dakota team to ever play for a national title, finishes at 54-8.
"It's unbelievable," Hostert said. "Making history with this group of guys is just amazing. I couldn't ask for a better team.
"What a season for these young men," manager Ryan Alexander said. "They have earned everything they have gotten along the way. It is a resilient group. Our goal was to be in Shelby and once we got here we decided we might as well win it. These boys have continued to impress. They are a good group of young men I couldn't be happier for."
"This shows that there is good baseball in Idaho," Alexander continued. "There has been for a long time. There are great high school programs and American Legion programs. Coaches work hard, players love the game and we are just happy to be here representing our home state, the Northwest region and Post 56."