Kyle Lehmann catches a fly ball during a 2018 American Legion World Series game last summer in Shelby, N.C. Lehmann and Dubuque County open play in the Central Plains Regional today.

Reid Rausch understands the value of veteran leadership for the Dubuque County American Legion baseball team as it embarks on the Central Plains Regional this week.

But the fresh blood on the squad could prove to be equally as important.

Dubuque County opens play in the eight-team double-elimination tournament at 9 a.m. today in Sioux Falls, S.D., against a team from Appleton, Wis. Dubuque County won the tournament last season to become the first Iowa team to reach the Legion World Series since 1986. It was also the first Iowa team to win a game at the World Series since 1976.

“Obviously, we have a few guys back from last year, but I think the big thing with this team is we have a lot of new guys who saw the success we had last year and they’ve been talking a lot about how they want to experience the same thing,” said Rausch, a recent Cascade High School graduate who will play at Coe College in the fall. “They want to reach the World Series themselves.

“The biggest thing about last year for us was playing our game and playing loose, and our coaches do a great job of emphasizing that part of it. If we do that, we’ll be fine in Sioux Falls.”

In addition to Rausch, three other players return from last year’s run. They include Western Dubuque’s Kyle Lehmann, Dubuque Senior’s Cody Deardorff and Hempstead grad and Kirkwood Community College freshman Wil Courtney. Lehmann won the MVP of the Iowa Legion state tournament this spring, and Courtney earned the same honor last season.

The Legion team includes players from all six of the county’s high schools and is sponsored by the American Legion Posts in Cascade, Dyersville, Dubuque, Epworth and Farley.

Western Dubuque leads the way with five other selections, including Damon Jaeger, Carter Kluesner, Casey Perrenoud, Luke Vorwald and Matt Maiers. Cascade will also be represented by Riley Reed and Haris Hoffman, while Nick Offerman made the team from Dyersville Beckman.

Wahlert’s Matty Schmitz and Charlie Jaeger and Hempstead’s Riley Connolly also figure to be key contributors this week.

“We’re pretty set at every position,” Lehmann said. “Obviously, you don’t know how good the other teams up there are going to be, but I like our chances going in. The guys who are back from last year have a lot of confidence going in. And, if we think we can win, the newcomers will feed off that and believe we can win, too.

“We had a lot of fun last year, and I think that was a big reason why we had so much success.”

The tournament includes two teams each from South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as the state champions from Iowa and North Dakota. It concludes on Sunday afternoon at Sioux Falls Stadium, the home of the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

“Any time you play in a big ballpark like that, the key is good pitching, good defense and putting the ball in play with line drives,” said Dubuque County head coach Rob Hoerner, who will pilot the squad with assistants Ronnie Kramer, Jeff Nadermann and D.J. Deardorff, and Legion representative Mike Gehl. “And those are really the strengths of our team. We have 15 of the top guys from around the county, and they know how to make things happen on a baseball field.

“Obviously, in a tournament like this, you need a lot of arms. And we have eight guys who pitched a lot of important innings for their high school teams this season. It gives you a lot of confidence to have that kind of depth.”

Dubuque County has established itself as a state powerhouse at the Legion level. In addition to its two straight state titles, Dubuque County has made the state title game five years in a row.

Last season, including state, regionals and the World Series, Dubuque County went 6-1 in elimination games.

“I say it every year, but give me a group of guys from Dubuque County, and you know they’re going to play the game the right way, and they’re going to compete,” Hoerner said. “I’ll take my chances with a group of kids from Dubuque County any day.”

• Cody Deardorff and Hoffman were the recipients of the Iowa American Legion Baseball Scholarships, in the amount of $2,000.

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