Hosting the winners’ bracket final of the Ninth District Junior Legion Tournament Thursday, Washington Post 218 became the last undefeated team in the event with an 11-5 win over second-seeded Pacific.
“We started off a little shaky, but I was really pleased with the way our guys came back,” said Post 218 Manager Phillip Kleekamp. “We had a few miscues defensively but our guys came out and battled back. Once we put a few runs on the board, we relaxed and started seeing and hitting the ball well.”
Post 218 (25-2) now waits until Saturday’s championship series, which starts at 1 p.m. at Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field.
“This was a great win,” Kleekamp said. “Pacific has a good team. We knew we would have to play a good game to beat them. After that first inning, we settled in and did a pretty good job.”
Pacific Post 320 (26-4) plays Friday night at 8:30 p.m. against the survivor of the Elsberry-O’Fallon 6 p.m. game. The winner of the 8:30 p.m. game gets a shot at Washington for the district title.
Post 218 already is guaranteed a spot in next week’s Zone 1 Tournament at Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field by virtue of winning the Ninth District regular season title. There are two ways Pacific can get in as well.
Pacific can come back to win the district tournament. Or, if Washington would happen to win the district tournament, Pacific would advance to the Zone 1 event by virtue of having the second-best record in the league during the regular season.
And Post 320 has shown the capability to play with the district’s best. Pacific split district games with Washington this season and won the previous meeting at Ronsick Field.
“I hope this loss is a wake-up call. We’ll see how the guys handle it. I think we’ll come back and play better,” said Post 320 Manager Cory Cowsert. “Our guys are just worried about winning games. When they don’t win, they get down on themselves. They can’t do that. This is baseball. Everybody loses. We still have a lot to play for.”
Pacific does have the pitching depth to still make a run at the district title. To do that, it will have to win three straight games in two days.
“We still have (Tyler) Straatmann ready to go,” Cowsert said. “We have (Allen) Fitzgerald bouncing back. We have (Tyler) Gerling who can pitch. He’s a guy who can throw everybody off balance because he’s not overpowering.”
Each team started the winning pitcher from the previous meetings. Washington sent Aaron Meyer, winner of the game in Pacific, to the hill, while Pacific countered with Ryan Howell.
Pacific scored once in the top of the first inning, but Post 218 tied it in the bottom of the second.
Things got wild in the third. Pacific scored twice while Washington countered with five runs in the bottom of the inning.
Defensive issues helped the offenses in that frame. Overall, Washington made four errors in the game while Pacific committed three errors.
“We got out to the 3-1 lead and just decided not to play anymore,” Cowsert said.
Pacific cut the lead to 6-4 in the top of the fourth inning, but Washington scored two runs in the bottom of the frame and added three more in the bottom of the fifth.
Pacific scored its final run in the top of the seventh.
Meyer recorded the win by going the distance, allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits and two walks. He struck out six.
“We played our game,” Kleekamp said. “I was really pleased with our effort overall. We got a great pitching performance by Aaron, who also hit the ball a ton. We got contributions up and down the lineup. To beat a good team like that, that’s what you need.”
Cowsert praised Meyer, who completed the game on 115 pitches.
“Aaron Meyer threw the ball really well,” Cowsert said. “We made him throw a lot of pitches in the third inning and scored some runs on him. In every other inning, we were swinging at the first couple of pitches.”
Howell went 3.2 innings, allowing eight runs (six earned) on eight hits and three walks. He struck out one.
Ryan Ray pitched the last 2.1 innings, allowing three runs on three hits. He struck out one batter.
“I told Ryan from the start that they were going to be patient at the plate. They made him throw strikes,” Cowsert said. “Instead of getting ahead in the count, he worked behind in the count, which didn’t get him anywhere.”
Two Washington batters, Justin Baylard and John Himmelberg, had three hits in the game.
Baylard had a double and two singles while scoring twice and driving in one run. He also stole a base.
Himmelberg posted three hits while scoring once and driving home two runs.
Seth Bollmann came up with two hits and scored one run.
Meyer helped his own cause with a triple. He also added a sacrifice fly while scoring twice and driving home two runs.
Ross Seitter had one hit, a sacrifice bunt and scored three runs.
Spencer Juergens had one hit, one run and an RBI.
Nathaniel Hillermann posted two sacrifices, a flyout and a bunt, while driving in two.
Ryan Becszlko put down a sacrifice bunt and was hit by a pitch. He drove in one.
Kyle Summers was hit by a pitch and scored.
“Our guys do the little things,” Kleekamp said. “Sometimes they get frustrated when they don’t get the hits. Ground balls, sacrifice flies or bunts do the job. If we get into a close game, we’ve got no problem with squeezing somebody home or hit the ball around the ballpark.”
Pacific was paced offensively by Howell, who recorded two singles and a run.
Alex Rice, Tyler Straatmann, Noah Brocato, Ryan Vogelgesang and Brendan McMillan each had one single.
Rice scored twice while Fitzgerald and Vogelgesang also crossed the plate. Straatmann drove in two runs while McMillan had one RBI.
Straatmann recorded a sacrifice fly.