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Westbrook nips Pipestone in 1964 dual between Gebhard and Gageby

WESTBROOK -- In February, the Beatles arrived in the United States and sang "She Loves You" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" on the Ed Sullivan Show, sparking the British Invasion that changed the American music scene.

In August, a pair of U.S. ships were hit by torpedoes off the coast of Vietnam in an event known as the Gulf of Tonkin Incident -- which led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the upcoming U.S. troop escalation to South Vietnam and bombing missions over North Vietnam.

In October, South Dakota native Billy Mills highlighted U.S. track and field victories in the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Yes it was 1964 -- and in that summer when the Cardinals and Yankees were striving to win Pennants and reach the World Series, there was a new member of the First Night League -- basing its operations out of the small town of Westbrook in northwestern Cottonwood County.

After going 11-1 in the seven-team Branch League in 1962, Westbrook's players faced disappointment in 1963 when the long-time league folded.

"We had played for years in the Branch League," recalled Jim Dibble, a 1955 Westbrook High School graduate and long-time football and basketball referee. "Several of us played with Fulda in the First Night League in '63 and then when the Giants did not field a team in '64, we were able to regroup in Westbrook and join the First Night League for the first time."

Indeed, banner headlines on the front page of the Westbrook Sentinel told the story.

In the April 18, 1963 issue the headline ran:

"Branch League Folds, New Circuit Sought By Locals."

Westbrook, Jeffers, Mountain Lake, Storden, Lakefield, Butterfield and Currie played in league's last season in 1962.

But after decades of competitive play, the Branch League was no more.

The headline in the Westbrook Sentinel on March 19, 1964 ran:

"Local Baseball Not Dead; Westbrook Joins Big Loop."

Yes, in those days the First Night League had become one of the most respected leagues in the state.

Pipestone was the perennial powerhouse, having won the league eight of the past nine seasons. The Indians had finished second in the 1963 State Class B Tournament -- after winning state championships in both 1958 and 1960.

Slayton, Windom, Luverne and Worthington were the other four teams in the loop in 1964.

So Westbrook was the smallest town and the "new kids on the block." How did the "rookies" do that summer, when "Rag Doll" by the Four Seasons and "I Get Around" by the Beach Boys were topping the charts?

Westbrook enjoyed lots of success during the regular season, including an early season (June 10) 5-3 victory over Windom at Island Park and a mid-season (July 16) 10-0 rout of Worthington at Fulda.

Pitching both of those Westbrook victories was Lamberton native Bob Gehbard, who had just completed his junior year at the University of Iowa.

A 1961 graduate of Lamberton High School, Gebhard pitched three seasons for the Hawkeyes before being drafted by the Minnesota Twins on June 8, 1965 after his senior season. He pitched several years in the minor leagues before advancing to the Major League level with the Twins in 1971 and 1972. He pitched in a total of 30 games and recorded 16 strikeouts.

After a brief stint with the Montreal Expos in 1974, Gebhard served as a coach and farm system director with the Expos for a decade. He was the Twins assistant general manager during both the 1987 and 1991 World Series' championships

In the middle '90s ('93-99) Gebhard was the general manager of the expansion Colorado Rockies. He has since worked with both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the St. Louis Cardinals.

But in that summer of '64, Gebhard was Westbrook's ace pitcher.

"It was fun playing when Bob was pitching," remembered Dundee's Butch Clausen, Westbrook's scrappy-playing second baseman. "He threw strikes and you were always ready to make a play. The defensive innings went by fast."

Rich Meyer, a 1963 Storden High School graduate, was Westbrook's catcher for most games in '64. He agreed with Clausen.

"I was only a year out of high school and was not used to catching someone with that good of control," recalled Meyer. "Gebhard had good speed, but his ability to locate the ball was what really made him tough."

Gebhard won a dozen games during the regular season and teamed with former Jeffers ace Don Sorensen, giving Westbrook a formidable one-two punch.

"Both those guys were good," said Meyer. "Plus, they both were good hitters."

How true, when one pitched, the other one played first base.

Westbrook finished a close second to Pipestone in the final league standings and drew a first round bye for the First Night League playoffs.

Windom defeated Slayton and Luverne beat Worthington in the first round, setting up the second series -- featuring Luverne vs. Westbrook and Pipestone vs. Windom.

With pitchers Chuck Gageby and Bob Nangle leading the way, Pipestone won its series over Windom.

Westbrook, meanwhile, won Game 1 against Luverne, utilizing four straight singles in the bottom of the ninth -- coming off the bats of Dean Shaner, Meyer, Francis Cohrs and Dibble, who had the game-winning RBI.

After Luverne won Game 2, 3-0, Westbrook came back with impressive 6-1 and 18-1 wins to advance to the championship series. Gebhard and Meyer each had three hits for Westbrook in the one-sided Game 4 victory.

That set up the classic series between Westbrook and Pipestone for the '64 First Night League title.

"Westbrook had a good team," recalled Nangle, who was a knuckleballer for the Indians.

"Gageby threw the ball hard," said Nangle. "When Warren Bailey caught for us, he used a sponge in his mitt when Chuck was pitching. But he took it out when I took the hill."

Nangle had pitched Pipestone to a 4-2 victory over Windom in Game 2 of that series and was a solid hitter for the Indians.

"I don't know if I ever got any hits off Gebhard," noted Nangle. "I did foul off some pitches."

Gebhard struck out 16 Pipestone batters in a 4-2 Westbrook victory in Game 1, played at Windom August 11.

In Game 2, Gageby -- a 1952 graduate of Flandreau (South Dakota) High School, who had pitched in the New York Yankee farms system in Kentucky and Oklahoma in 1953 and 1954 -- worked the early innings and Pipestone made a 7-0 lead stand up for a 10-5 victory.

With the series tied at a game apiece, Game 3 was a classic pitcher's duel between Gageby and Gebhard.

Both were amazing. There were a total of 28 strikeouts recorded -- 16 by Gageby and 12 by Gebhard. Pipestone scored the game's lone run in the second inning when Dean Antoine's double scored Doug Hart.

Gageby had issued a walk to Sorensen in the second inning, but had been perfect after that -- until Meyer hit the first pitch of the ninth inning into shallow right center field for the only Westbrook hit of the game.

Pipestone's 1-0 victory put the Indians up two games to one.

Game 4 was played at Pipestone on Tuesday August 18, 1964.

This time it was Sorensen who delivered the pitching gem, throwing all 11 innings in a 3-1 Westbrook win.

"I really think that Don's performance in Game 4 was the key to our winning that series," recalled Clausen, who had two hits in the game. "He was amazing."

Westbrook plated the winning runs in the top of the 11th when Meyer's single over second base scored both Gebhard and Sorensen.

Sorensen, who had worked himself out of several earlier jams, retired the Indians in order in the bottom of the 11th.

Tied at two games each, Game 5 was played on Friday evening August 21, 1964 in Fulda.

Both teams again went with their aces -- another Gageby vs. Gebhard showdown.

Bailey beat out an infield hit in the first inning for Pipestone and scored on an RBI double by Hart.

But Gebhard got tough for the rest of the game, holding the Indians without another score.

Gageby was equally as effective -- until Westbrook rallied in the bottom of the sixth.

After Gebhard walked, Sorenson singled, which moved Bob to third. Sorenson stole second, putting both in scoring position. Clausen then delivered what turned out to be game-winning hit.

Daily Globe sports editor Corky Brace described it this way:

"Butch Clausen, Westbrook's hard-hitting second sacker, settled the issue. Clausen hit a sharp single, his second hit of the night, and drove both runners across the plate."

With a 2-1 lead, Gebhard was untouchable the rest of the game and Westbrook had won the First Night League in its first year in the loop.

The starting line-up and batting order for Westbrook in that decisive fifth game was:

Dibble, right field; Bob Bloch, center field; Gebhard, pitcher; Sorensen, first base; Clausen, second base; Chuck Madson, shortstop; Shaner, third base; Meyer, catcher and Cohrs, left field.

The team was coached by Dovray native Bob Schmidt.

"He was a fiery manager and demanded a lot from us," said Dibble, whose father Floyd kept the scorebook for the team. Floyd Dibble had been quite a player himself, "barnstorming" the area with many teams, decades earlier.

"We had a lot of fun," remembered Schmidt. "That was a great bunch of guys that played on that team."

Westbrook went on to defeat Lake Wilson in three games (10-3, 11-1 and 10-0), outscoring the Gopher League champs, 31-4, to win the Region 18B crown.

Sorensen, who had pitched Jeffers to a state tournament trip in 1960, twirled a memorable one-hitter in Game 3, while striking out 10.

Ely defeated Westbrook, 1-0, in the '64 state tournament (September 5) at Brownton.

Two years later in 1966, Westbrook --with many of the same players and the addition of several others -- made a return trip to the State Amateur Tournament and won two-out-of three games at Belle Plaine.

But the story of that '66 team is a "Blast-from-the-Past" of its own -- that also deserves a future nostalgic look.