It’s no secret that baseball has a rich history throughout the United States. For South Dakota, the narrative is the same. Of the many baseball stories that the Mt. Rushmore state has to offer, one in particular tells the story of overcoming the odds.
It was the 1938 South Dakota amateur baseball championship game; David vs Goliath – Claremont vs Aberdeen, a true underdog showdown for all the marbles.
Aberdeen, much like it is today, was huge in size compared to Claremont, and the ‘Hub City’ was favored to win the title. Over 5,000 fans showed up to watch a game that would be remembered for decades to come.
Even though Claremont didn’t have the roster size of Aberdeen, or the pool of players to pick from, the game was close. Through nine innings of play, it was tied at 4-4. Claremont pitcher Clayton Feser had pitched a total of 18 innings at this time, as he had pitched a complete game in the semi-finals earlier in the day against Watertown.
In those days, it was rare for even a Major League stadium to have lights, let alone a small local baseball venue in South Dakota. After nine innings, daylight was about to expire, and Umpire Tommy Collins informed both teams that if the game didn’t wrap-up after the 10th inning, play would be halted and restarted the next day.
Claremont’s Feser was able to keep Aberdeen scoreless in the top of the 10th, but they themselves quickly recorded two outs in the bottom half of the inning. Bill Prunty was the final hope for Claremont. Faced with a full count, Prunty connected... a game-winning home run to deep right field.
His late game heroics not only won the state championship for Claremont, but it avoided a next day restart, which most feel, even today, would have resulted in an Aberdeen win.
Prunty’s game-winning baseball from more than 80-years ago now sits on display at the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame in Lake Norden, South Dakota.
Aberdeen American News Sports Editor Larry Dessautels would write a poem a few days later, describing what has now become known as South Dakota’s Most Famous Baseball.
Prunty At The Bat
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Claremont nine that day.
They’d battled to the finals and ‘twas near the end of play.
The score was tied at 4 to 4, a playoff game in sight;
The great arm of Feser boy was fading with the light.
For 19 thrilling innings, he’d held the foe at bay;
He couldn’t do it longer now, nor pitch again next day.
First, he’d shut out Watertown to start the afternoon,
And now, he’d baffled Aberdeen with darkness coming soon.
The last half of the tenth came round with no change in the score,
And when the first two men went down, a tie contest seemed sure.
Then, from the Claremont dugout, his step as firm as fate,
Prunty, might Prunty, was advancing to the plate.
He stepped into the batter’s box, a sturdy batsman, Bill.
He worked the count to three and two, the crowd was hushed and still.
He fouled some pitches far and wide, was strike three now his lot?
But here the pitched whirled again, was that a rifle shot?
A sharp, clear crack, and out through space the leather pellet flew,
A blot against the darkening sky; a speck against the blue;
Above the fence in deep right field in rapid whirling flight,
The ball sailed on, the speck grew dim and soon was lost to sight.
Somewhere in this favored land dark clouds may hide the sun,
Somewhere bands no longer play and children have no fun.
Somewhere there is sadness, somewhere no glad acclaim,
But Claremont hearts are happy now, Bill Prunty won the game.