In a game that came down to a single run, Post 218 starter Brendan Kleekamp made the difference.
Kleekamp hurled a gem, blanking Jefferson City, 1-0, Thursday night at the Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field.
“It was a good baseball game,” Post 218 Manager Mike Gardner said. “It’s the kind of game you want to win this time of year: good pitching, good defense, and timely hits. That’s very important.”
In a nine-inning game which lasted just under two hours, Kleekamp hummed along, completing eight innings in the effort while striking out 12, allowing two hits and two walks.
“I was just out there playing the game and enjoying it,” Kleekamp said. “This is my last chance for Legion, so I’m just trying to make the most out of it.”
Matt Jones earned the save by tossing a scoreless ninth while striking out two Post 5 batters.
Kleekamp’s masterpiece was just enough to outdo his counterpart, Jefferson City Post 5 pitcher Seth Lehman, who went the distance. Lehman allowed just one earned run on seven hits. He struck out two and walked two.
Kleekamp knew the team needed to make a statement in its first game. The win moved Washington into the winners’ bracket final. The loser, Jefferson City, needs three wins just to make it back to the title contest. And Post 5 will have to start against defending Zone 1 runner-up West, which was a 4-3 loser to St. Charles Post 312 in the other first-round game Thursday night.
“Winning this first game was huge,” Kleekamp said, “but here on out every run counts.”
The victory places Washington in the winners’ bracket championship and gives it a day of rest on Friday. Post 218 next plays at 1 p.m. Saturday. The winner of that game plays for the title Sunday at 1 p.m. The loser drops into the 7 p.m. Saturday night losers’ bracket final.
While the other three teams play in the heat Friday to determine whether St. Charles Post 312 or Moberly Post 6 survives to play against Washington Saturday, Post 218 now gets a break to scout out the competition.
In a favorable position in the bracket, Post 218 needs just two more wins to capture a state tournament berth. Only one other team, Moberly Post 6, is in a similar situation. Moberly plays St. Charles at 5 p.m. Friday in the other winners’ bracket semifinal.
Friday’s action continues with the West-Jefferson City game at 8 p.m. in an elimination game.
The winner of the West-Jefferson City game moves into Saturday’s 4 p.m. game against the loser of Friday’s St. Charles-Moberly game. The winner of the 4 p.m. game plays the loser of the 1 p.m. game Saturday at 7 p.m.
The championship series will start Sunday at 11 a.m. Game time has been moved up to avoid any traffic conflicts with the Fair parade. Should a second game be necessary, it will start around 2 p.m.
Relying on a fastball and a slider, Kleekamp’s pitches baffled Jeff City hitters. Seven of his strikeouts were punch outs.
Kleekamp also retired the first 13 batters in a row en route to the victory. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning.
“It was a typical Brendan (Kleekamp) outing: two hitter, no runs,” Post 218 Manager Mike Gardner said. “He was a little shaky in the beginning; I don’t know if he was a little nervous. But once he settled down, he was perfect.”
The heart of the lineup batted in the lone run of the evening. In the top of the fourth, the speedy Sam Deschenes reached first on a fielder’s choice. A Jones walk forced Deschenes into scoring position. Then, Dustin Howard slapped a seeing-eye ground ball that eked past a diving Jeff City second baseman.
“Our middle and bottom of the lineup is pretty good,” Gardner said. “Usually if they’re hitting, we win.”
Howard had the only two-hit performance for either team, going two for three with an RBI. Jones reached base three times with a single in the second and a walk in the fourth. In the ninth inning, Jones snagged second on an error that bounced off the center fielder’s glove.
Washington’s offense left seven men on base, but Jeff City’s defense kept the game close. Jeff City completed a double play, picked off a runner, and made a diving grab in left field.
Ever the competitor, Kleekamp didn’t need any extra run support. For the Lindenwood University recruit, it was just another game in his growing list of American Legion standout starts.
MVP of the Blue Springs Wood Bat Tournament, Kleekamp potentially could pitch later in the tournament. But even if he doesn’t, his effort in the opening round has set the tone.