LANGDON - Three weeks ago, if you would have offered the Carrington American Legion baseball team an opportunity just to play in the state tournament, it would have taken it in a heartbeat.
Look at it now. Winning its fifth game in the last five days Sunday, Post 25 strolled to an 18-6 victory over Thompson at American Legion Field, securing its first Class B Legion championship.
"We went through some tough times this summer, but I always knew that we could play at this level," Carrington coach Tim Ranum said. "A state championship is a little surprising, but it just all came together and clicked."
Logan Clifton (center) looks back at his teammates after collecting the Class B American Legion baseball tournament first-place trophy Sunday in Langdon. Post 25 defeated Thompson 18-6 to secure its first-ever state title.
That's putting it lightly. Carrington seemed to grow stronger as the tournament progressed.
With increased totals in both hits and runs after each game they played, Post 25 finished its unbeaten title run with a 20-hit performance against Thompson.
Player of the tournament and Sunday's winning pitcher Patrick Freeman had four of them, including a pair of doubles in the third and sixth innings.
Freeman had nothing but praise for his teammates after Sunday's win, quick to shy away from his own accomplishments.
"Logan Clifton gets 10 at-bats the whole year, and he comes in and goes 2-for-3 today, gets the big hit against Enderlin (on Thursday)," he said. "It's unbelievable. People came in and pitched really well, we played really good defense all tournament, and toward the end our sticks just got red hot."
Despite notching his second win of the tournament Sunday, Freeman was relieved by Clifton after just three innings, a time when Post 181 held a narrow 6-5 lead.
After going down 4-0 in the first, Thompson responded with six of its own in the bottom of the second, a stretch catapulted by a two-out error from Marcus Hewitt at third.
Carrington didn't wait long to reclaim its advantage.
One in the third and five in the fourth put Post 25 in front 10-6. By the end of the sixth, Carrington led by eight.
"Our kids did a great job of making adjustments in every game. Thompson was pretty stretched with their pitching depth, and we took advantage of that," Ranum said. "That's what good teams do."
Post 25 players were quick to praise Ranum for his guidance this summer, credit the value of teamwork and togetherness for their unprecedented success
"He kept on us and told us to keep working hard," catcher Easton Paeper said. "Three weeks ago I didn't even think we would be here to be honest, but we have fun when we play now. At the beginning we weren't having fun, but he made it very important that we have fun in order to win, and that's what we've been doing."
Said Ranum: "It was a team effort. We struggled a little bit with that early in the year, so the way things came together, the way the kids started believing in each other and trusting each other, was great to see. That's the neat part, how we all bonded."
Six Carrington players registered multiple hits Sunday.
Paeper continued his hot hitting, reaching base safely in all but one of his six at-bats. Brady Smith went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and four runs scored.
"Hats off to Carrington," Thompson coach Brady Schwab said. "They went through the whole tournament undefeated and really go hot at the right time. We played well, but we just didn't have enough today."
Carrington achieved its ultimate goal, but it'll have a chance to extend its winning run even further.
Post 25 will take on Class A state champion Wahpeton on Tuesday in a one game play-in in Wahpeton. The winner will represent North Dakota in the Central Plains Regional Tournament, to be held in Fargo starting Thursday at Jack Williams Stadium.
"Hopefully we can keep playing like this, but every game from now on is just for fun," Freeman said. "Not a lot of teams get to play like this, so you've just gotta cherish the moment and have fun with it."
Joe Mellenbruch covers Legion baseball and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.