It started, and ended, with Brendan Kleekamp.
Drawing two of the toughest pitching assignments in the Blue Springs Wood Bat Tournament, Kleekamp came through with two key victories in the event.
And that secured him the most valuable player award.
In his two starts, Kleekamp pitched 12.1 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits and five walks. He struck out 11 batters. That was good for a 0.57 ERA.
Facing West in the championship game, Kleekamp achieved what no other pitcher had done against the Jaguars — shut them down.
West entered the title contest having outscored its opposition over the first six games of the event, 46-3. But they managed only one hit and four walks against the Lindenwood-bound Kleekamp. He struck out five West batters while locating 59 of his 99 pitches within the strike zone.
Kleekamp’s other start in the tournament came Thursday in Washington’s opening game against defending tournament runner-up Associated Fire of Papillion, Neb. In that contest, Kleekamp went 5.1 innings while allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and one walk. He struck out six while hitting two batters.
In that game, Kleekamp threw 90 pitches with 60 of them in the strike zone.
Post 218 Manager Mike Gardner said that the tournament organizers opted not to have an all-tournament team this season, but to focus on awarding an MVP award. Gardner said Post 218 had several worthy candidates for the award.
“I thought that we had several kids who had a great tournament and deserved to be mentioned as candidates,” Gardner said. “Cody Gardner was 2-0 only allowing two runs. Brendan Kleekamp was also 2-0 only allowing two runs. Tony Helfrich pitched a shutout, had a save and a game winning hit. Mike McGilvray is one of our leaders on the team and had a great tournament with two big hits in the finals. Jack Kopmann probably led the team in RBIs for the tournament and played great defense. Trent Leimkuehler also had a solid tournament and stepped up big in the last game.”
Despite being played in the Kansas City area, the tournament proved to be a showcase for the Ninth District. Three of the final four teams in the bracket were from the Ninth District with Washington defeating its rival West for the title.
Reaching the semifinals were St. Charles Post 312 and Fike Post 499. Fike, one of the event hosts, lost 15-1 to West in one of the semifinals while Post 218 prevailed over St. Charles, 4-2.
Three other teams from the Ninth District also played in the tournament with Central, St. Peters and Elsberry each going 2-1 in pool play.
Many sources have speculated that because the Ninth District plays its league games with wood bats that teams from this area have an edge in wood bat events. It was the second wood bat event in a row (following the Washington Wood Bat Showcase) in which Post 218 and West had played for the title. West prevailed in 15 innings at the Washington event, 8-7.
This year’s Blue Springs Wood Bat Tournament drew 31 teams, down from the 40 it’s had in recent years. Missouri sent the most teams this year to the event with 23 teams coming from the Show-Me State. Six teams came from Nebraska and two crossed the border from Kansas. A third Kansas team was scheduled to play but dropped out prior to the event.