Wasting no time to get onto the scoreboard, the Washington Post 218 Junior Legion team knocked out Jefferson City Post 5 Sunday to claim the Zone 1 Tournament title, 5-4.
“It was a big win,” said Post 218 Manager Phillip Kleekamp. “We got lots of help up and down the lineup. Once again, we got a great pitching performance from Spencer Juergens.”
By virtue of the win, Post 218 (29-2) qualified for the Missouri State Tournament which starts Thursday in Joplin. Washington will open play against Glendale at 2:30 p.m.
Strong starting pitching proved to be a trademark for Washington in the Zone Tournament. Post 218 received complete games from Evan Ayers, Aaron Meyer and Ju ergens in the event. None of the three pitchers allowed a walk.
“I tried to throw strikes and let my defense work behind me,” Juergens said. “I knew if I didn’t give them any free bases, they would have to earn it.”
Kleekamp said Juergens has worked hard to get back to the position of being able to be a steady member of the rotation.
“Spencer really has come back,” Kleekamp said. “We brought him back and worked him for a long time to make sure he would be ready to pitch every day and he’s done a great job.”
In the title game, Washington got another strong postseason outing from Juergens, who made his third start of the season for Post 218. He allowed four runs (three earned) on 10 hits. He struck out three Post 5 batters.
“It feels good,” Juergens said about his arm. “I think every time I pitch, it feels better afterward. Hopefully by state I’ll be back to my normal self.”
Washington, the visiting team for the game, scored five times in the top of the first inning, and made that pay off throughout the rest of the game.
“We were lucky we jumped out early,” Kleekamp said. “We needed every one of those five runs in the end. It truly was a team win. Our guys worked hard and they deserved it.”
Seth Bollmann led off with a walk, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch. Aaron Meyer singled to center to plate Bollmann.
Nathaniel Hillermann walked and Ryan Becszlko singled to load the bases with one out.
Justin Baylard belted a bases-clearing double to the center field fence and Washington quickly made it 4-0.
“I just stuck to the plan just like the coaches had said,” Baylard said. “He threw a couple of curveballs early in the count and I laid off of them. Then he threw me a fastball. I got lucky and took advantage of it.”
With two outs, Nick Thiel doubled to center to bring Baylard home and make it 5-0.
But that was it for Post 218.
“It definitely makes you feel more confident,” Juergens said about having the five-run lead before even throwing his first pitch. “You’ve got to work hard so they don’t get the momentum back because there was still a lot of ballgame left to be played.”
Despite needing 46 pitches to get through the first, Jefferson City starter Cody Stegeman settled down after that and threw five additional scoreless innings. He allowed five runs on five hits and three walks in the game. He struck out nine Post 218 batters.
“Jefferson City has a good team,” Kleekamp said. “After he got out of that first inning, their pitcher was tough. He was bringing it pretty good. We knew his pitch count was getting up there. He deserves all of the credit in the world. That kid was dealing through six innings.”
Alex Dickneite pitched the seventh inning, striking out two Post 218 batters.
Jefferson City started to chip back. Only big defensive plays by Washington kept Post 5 from doing additional damage.
Post 5 had one runner thrown out at the plate in the fifth. In the sixth, a two-out, two-run single by Alex Verhoff brought Jefferson City back to 5-4.
Juergens coaxed a fly ball to John Himmelberg in right to end the threat.
In the seventh, Post 5 got a line drive by Dylan Hoelscher to the left field gap. Kyle Summers, hustling from his spot, dove and snagged the ball in the air for the first out.
“I knew I was going to have to run, but I really didn’t think I was going to catch it,” Summers said. “I just laid out and caught it.”
Kleekamp was wowed by the play.
“Kyle Summers made one of the most unbelievable catches I’ve ever seen when we needed it the most,” said Kleekamp, who was an outfielder in his playing days.
Juergens whiffed Dickneite for the final out, giving Post 218 its trip to Joplin.
Washington had five hits in the game and those came from five different players.
Baylard and Thiel doubled in the first inning. Meyer, Hillermann and Becszlko singled. Hillermann’s single in the fifth was the only Post 218 hit after the opening frame.
Bollmann, Meyer, Hillermann, Becszlko and Baylard scored runs. Baylard drove home three while Meyer and Thiel also recorded RBIs.
Baylard and Bollmann stole bases. John Himmelberg was hit by a pitch. Hillermann, Baylard and Bollmann also drew walks.
Sam Bowles, James Renkemeyer and Sam Hager each had two hits for Post 5. Hager had the only extra-base hit, a double. Burke Brant and Matt Temmen each recorded sacrifice bunts.
Jefferson City stranded six batters while Post 218 left one aboard. Each team made one error.