BRANSON — With the Freshman Legion state title on the line, Washington Post 218 proved once and for all who the best team in the state was.
Playing in the second and deciding championship game of the Missouri American Legion Freshman State Tournament Sunday in Branson, Post 218 (39-2) took control early on and cruised to an 8-0 victory over Ste. Genevieve Post 150.
“We expected to win. We knew what we were up against. We conceded (Saturday) they outplayed us and got the win. We weren’t going to let that happen again,” said Post 218 Manager Kevin Juergens. “I’ve been through many seasons as a player and a coach in different sports. To finally finish it feels great. It’s a great group of kids. I couldn’t be prouder.”
The state championship is the first for the Freshman team and the fourth overall for the Post 218 program.
Also winning state titles for Post 218 were the 1957 team, the 1989 Senior team and the 2005 Junior team.
“We’ve had great talent since last year on the team. We really came together and played as a team,” said Post 218 outfielder John Himmelberg. “We knew if we played our game, we had a good shot of winning it all.”
Ste. Genevieve (27-8) forced both teams to stay in Branson an extra day by defeating Washington Saturday in the first title game, 2-1.
The two teams returned Sunday to Pirate Park in Branson, where Post 218 took control early and often.
“It feels great. We played good all season,” said Post 218 shortstop Seth Bollmann. “To come here and win it, it’s a great way to end the season.”
The story of the game was Post 218 pitcher Evan Ayers, who tossed a complete game shutout.
“I thought Evan Ayers would pitch well, but he hasn’t had a complete game all year. He’s thrown strikes all year,” Juergens said. “The one thing we knew about this team is they haven’t been able to hit very well down here all week. I told Evan if he keeps the ball down, he’s going to have a lot of success.”
In seven innings of work, Ayers allowed no runs on four hits with three walks, one hit batter and four strikeouts.
Ayers’ fourth strikeout of the game sealed the state championship for Post 218.
“I was pretty nervous at the start of the game, but once I got out of the first inning, I felt pretty good,” Ayers said. “After we got the four-run lead, I felt good. I kind of cruised after that.”
Jumping to an early lead was key for Post 218, who scored two runs in both the top of the first and second innings to grab a 4-0 advantage.
Himmelberg led off the game with a single, moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Bollmann and scored on a two-out single by Spencer Juergens.
Following a single by Logan Holdmeyer, Juergens scored when Micah McNeal reached on an error to make the score 2-0.
In the second inning, Nate Hillermann led off with a double and scored on an RBI single by Justin Baylard.
Austin Finder later reached on an error, which scored Baylard to increase the lead to 4-0.
“After dropping that one (Saturday), getting the early lead was big for us,” Juergens said. “We put the ball in play and got Evan a lead. It was important to get an early lead.”
Trailing 4-0, Ste. Genevieve loaded the bases in two different innings, but did not score.
In the bottom of the second inning, Ayers retired Ste. Gen’s leadoff batter on a ground ball with the bases loaded to end the frame.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Ste. Gen had the bases loaded with one out.
Himmelberg caught a fly ball in right field and nailed the runner tagging up from third base at the plate. Baylard applied the tag to complete the double play and end the inning.
Post 218 put the game away with four runs in the top of the seventh inning after the first two batters were retired.
Finder and Juergens both singled and scored in the inning. Holdmeyer and McNeal both reached on an error and scored. Ryan Becszlko and Hillermann both followed with RBI singles.
“We had a big inning in the fifth where they had the bases loaded with one out and we got a double play where we had the play at the plate to end the inning. That pretty much sunk the ship for them,” Juergens said. “And then we put on those four runs in the seventh inning.”
Andy Grieshaber, a side-armed throwing right-hander, tossed all seven innings for Ste. Genevieve after pitching his team to a 7-1 win Thursday over Jackson. He allowed eight runs on 11 hits against Post 218.
Hillermann (two doubles) and Juergens both collected three hits for Washington. Juergens added two runs and one RBI. Hillermann had one run and one RBI.
Finder and Holdmeyer both had one hit, one run and reached on an error.
Baylard finished with one hit, one RBI and one run. Becszlko added one hit and one RBI. Himmelberg had one hit and one run. McNeal reached on an error twice and scored a run. Bollmann had a sacrifice bunt.
“It’s a great experience. We expected it, but it’s another thing doing it. It’s awesome. We came together as a team and went all the way,” Baylard said.
“It feels great. It was great to win the district tournament, but this is much better,” said Spencer Juergens. “We didn’t want to blow it. We had such a good opportunity, and we really wanted to take advantage of it.”