We all know the famous sports expression, “defense wins championships,” which is a familiar, old-school approach.
While defense is important in baseball, it’s not the ultimate factor in winning championships.
Instead, it’s pitching.
When a team has solid, deep pitching, the sky is the limit.
That’s certainly the case for the Washington Post 218 Seniors, whose pitching staff has been tremendous for really the last three seasons.
Post 218 makes its third straight trip to the Missouri American Legion State Tournament this week in Sedalia.
And for the first time in the three years, Washington has to be considered the favorite to win its first Senior Legion state championship since 1989.
“We feel that we are the favorites because we were there last year and the experience should be helpful, especially since a lot of our key players are returning and want to make amends,” said Post 218 Manager Mike Gardner. “We are just a very confident team right now. We know it will not be easy. All of the other teams are very deserving. We will have to play our best to win.”
Three-time defending state champion Festus will not be in Sedalia.
Neither will Blue Springs Post 499/Fike or the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s.
There will be some new blood this year in Sedalia, including Creve Coeur Post 397 and Independence Post 21.
Joplin, the first-round opponent for Post 218, has dropped out of the tournament.
Hillcrest will replace Joplin and be Washington's opponent in the first round.
Post 218 has split two low-scoring games with Creve Coeur this season and handled Independence rather easily in one meeting.
Independence has to be a better team than it showed against Post 218 at the Blue Springs Wood Bat Tournament.
When you take a Zone Tournament over Fike, the A’s and Sedalia, you have a solid team.
Creve Coeur is the first District 10 team to reach the Senior state tournament since 1998.
Like Washington, Creve Coeur has some quality pitching and some lofty batting averages.
Anything can happen in baseball. Just look at the Zone Tournament.
How did the West Jaguars go 0-2? How did the Moberly Sixers rally to eliminate Jefferson City Post 5? How did St. Charles rally to beat Washington?
Fortunately for Post 218, Brendan Kleekamp has been lights out over the last two seasons.
Not many Legion teams in the state have been able to score runs consistently against Kleekamp over the last two seasons.
But a big reason why Washington is so strong is it has plenty of depth in the pitching staff.
Tony Helfrich, Cody Gardner and Brendan Feldmann all have had tremendous seasons. Luke Hasenjaeger also has pitched well.
Guys like Matt Jones and Trent Leimkuehler have done the job in the late innings.
Post 218 has played 43 games this season and the most runs it’s allowed in one game is eight, which happened twice in losses to Jackson and West.
Since that 15-inning loss to West in the title game of the Washington Wood Bat Tournament on June 24, Post 218 has won 21 of 22 games and has not allowed more than five runs in any of those contests.
Playing with metal bats at the Zone Tournament, the Post 218 pitching still was dominant, even in the loss to St. Charles.
There’s no reason to think that won’t continue this week in Sedalia.
“Our starting pitching has been key for us all year. And it did not disappoint us in the Zone Tournament,” Gardner said. “We did really hit the ball well on Sunday, but without the starting pitching, we would have never had the opportunity.”
Post 218 still can’t rely solely on its pitching. That 17-run outburst against St. Charles to win the Zone title was a good sign.
This team has players who can hit. There isn’t an easy out in the lineup.
But they’ve run into some good pitching. Post 218 usually faces the No. 1 or No. 2 pitchers from other teams.
“Hitting is certainly contagious and I think the entire team has the bug,” Gardner said. “We have had spurts during the year when we really hit the ball well. The more we swing the metal bats, the more confidence some of our kids are getting.”
The Missouri state champion catches a bit of a break by taking on the host team in the first round of the Midsouth Regional Tournament Aug. 9-13 in New Orleans.
That means team Missouri won’t be facing a fellow state champion in the opening round.
Things are falling into place for Post 218, the state favorite. Watch out for Creve Coeur and Independence. It’s never easy.
Pitching wins championships.