That’s a term the Washington Post 218 Senior Legion team will get used to hearing as it heads to Sedalia this week to compete in the four-team Missouri State Tournament at Liberty Park.
Washington (36-7) is scheduled top open the event Thursday at 5 p.m. against the Hillcrest Merchants Post 69 (21-23).
Hillcrest was the runner-up in Zone 3 to the Joplin Miners. Joplin declined its invitation to play in the event. Joplin was unable to secure the required 12 players needed to field a team according to Legion sources.
Editor's Note — This information was received after the story originally appeared in the Wednesday Missourian.
The other first-round game pits Independence Post 21 (34-13) against Creve Coeur (34-12).
“We probably know the most about Creve Coeur having played them twice in two very close ballgames,” Post 218 Manager Mike Gardner said. “They were impressive with their pitching. We also played Independence Post 21 in Blue Springs so we have an idea of what they have as well. We really do not know much about our first opponent Joplin, but we will try to find out what we can before we get to Sedalia.”
The state winner advances to the American Legion Midsouth Regional Tournament to be held Aug. 9-13 at Kirsch Rooney Stadium in New Orleans.
That event will feature state winners from Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
The Missouri champion has drawn the host team as its first-round opponent Thursday, Aug. 9. That will be the final game of the first day and will be part of a doubleheader which starts at 4:30 p.m. with the Oklahoma and Louisiana champions playing each other.
Post 218 is the only team returning from last year’s state field.
And the 2011 state runner-up won’t have its nemesis, Festus Post 253, to deal with this season.
The three-time defending state champions, and 2009 American Legion World Series qualifier, was knocked out at the Zone 4 Tournament in Cape Girardeau by Ballwin Post 611.
This is the third year in a row and fourth time since 2006 that Washington has made the trek to Sedalia for the state tournament, so experience might be a factor.
So, does that really make Post 218 the favorite in this year’s event?
Gardner feels that’s the case.
“We feel that we are the favorites because we were there last year and the experience should be helpful, especially since a lot of our key players are returning and want to make amends,” Gardner stated. “Also, I think we are just a very confident team right now. We know it will not be easy as all the other teams are very deserving and we will have to play our best to win.”
Washington has the credentials to be labeled the favorite. Post 218 won the 31-team Blue Springs Wood Bat Tournament this season. And Washington cruised to the Ninth District regular season and South Division Tournament titles.
Trent Leimkuehler, who belted two home runs in the winner-take-all game against St. Charles, is Washington’s leading hitter at .458.
Jack Kopmann is next among regulars at .328. Mike McGilvray hit .318 with Grant Eckelkamp next at .290.
Washington’s offensive numbers might not be as gaudy as some of the other teams. Post 218 played its entire league schedule, many nondistrict games and two tournaments with wood bats this year.
Leimkuehler and Jones lead Washington in doubles. Leimkuehler and McGilvray are tops in triples.
Leimkuehler and Jones are the top two RBI batters. Eckelkamp has scored 35 runs while Leimkuehler and Sam Deschenes have scored 31 runs apiece.
Leimkuehler has 17 stolen bases while Deschenes has stolen 13 bases.
On the hill, Washington’s top pitcher is Brendan Kleekamp, who is 7-1 with a 0.74 ERA.
Cody Gardner has gone 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA. Tony Helfrich has five wins and no losses with a 0.77 ERA.
Brendan Feldmann has pitched to six decisions, winning four. He has a 1.03 ERA.
Leimkuehler has three wins and one loss with a 2.25 ERA. Jones, Luke Hasenjaeger and Zach Pointer each have two wins. Andrew Sumner has one win.
Washington has won two state titles, having won in 1957 and 1989.
If Post 218 has earned the favorite tag from those who follow Missouri Senior Legion baseball, the other teams also can be tagged.
Defending Zone 3 champions Hillcrest wasn’t even supposed to be coming to Sedalia.
In fact, the Joplin Globe reports Hillcrest Manager Ryan Schaffitzel had to be contacted while on vacation in Chicago.
The Joplin Globe reports Schaffitzel believes he has enough players to be able to field a legal team. American Legion rules require at least 12 players be present for a game to be able to start.
The Merchants lost in the Zone 3 Tournament’s second title game to the Joplin Miners, 6-4. Hillcrest had forced a second game with a 6-4 win in the opener of the title series.
Post 218 played Hillcrest last year in the State Tournament losers’ bracket, 19-6. That game lasted seven innings. Washington scored 10 runs in the third and six more in the fourth to put the game out of reach.
Of Washington’s returning players, Leimkuehler had three hits, including two doubles. He scored four runs and drove in one.
McGilvray had two hits, scored once and drove in two.
Post 218 rapped out 14 hits and took advantage of eight Hillcrest errors in that game. Hillcrest stranded 12 batters.
Tyler Thompson was the winning pitcher in that game, but Feldmann (2.2 innings, four runs allowed, eight hits, three walks, two strikeouts) and Leimkuehler (0.1 of an inning, one strikeout) also pitched in the contest.
Dallas Williams, who led Hillcrest with two hits in that game, also had two hits for the Merchants in the Zone Tournament loss to Joplin.
Hillcrest forced a second championship game after beating Joplin in the first title contest, 6-4. Joplin won the second game, 6-4.
The two teams also played in the winners’ bracket championship with Joplin winning, 9-7. Hillcrest had been up 7-5 after seven innings.
Editor's Note — The print version of the Wednesday Missourian contains information about Joplin, which officially dropped out Tuesday while the paper was being published.
If there’s a home team for the state tournament, it will be Independence Post 21 (34-13).
Geographically, Post 21 is the closest team to Sedalia and has some knowledge of the area as well, having won the Zone 2 Tournament at Liberty Stadium Sunday.
However, Independence might find it tough to earn Sedalia support since it knocked out the local team, the Sedalia Post 642 Travelers, in the zone title game, 9-5. Independence also beat the Travelers in the winners’ bracket final, 4-1.
Post 21 does have a history of winning state titles, but hasn’t done so since 1963.
Independence is a team Washington knows a bit about. The teams played each other in the Blue Springs Wood Bat Tournament. In Washington’s second game of the day, Cody Gardner threw a shutout victory for Post 218, 9-0.
Gardner tossed 87 pitches while striking out seven Independence batters.
Post 218 used several reserves in that game. Trent Leimkuehler had two hits in the game. Zach Pointer delivered a double and Mike McGilvray tripled. Grant Eckelkamp, Tony Helfrich and Luke Hasenjaeger also had hits.
Independence went 1-2 in pool play and recovered to win a crossover game against Higginsville Post 223, 8-3.
There will be one major difference should the teams meet again. This time, they’ll be able to use metal bats.
In the Zone 2 Tournament championship game, the Sedalia Democrat reports a baserunning move by Cole Polacek was the turning point of the 9-5 Independence win.
Caught in a rundown with two outs, Polacek managed to reach second safely. Independence followed that with a three-run rally to get onto the scoreboard. While Sedalia took the lead again in the sixth, Independence took advantage of its momentum to score three more runs in the bottom of that inning and three runs in the seventh to post all the runs it would need.
Andrew Billingsly got the start for Independence and lasted five innings, allowing 10 hits and two walks with one strikeout. He surrendered a home run in the second inning to Sedalia starting pitcher Dalton Christian.
Independence used four pitchers in the game with Bobby Brock, Justin Madsen and Josh Feltz following Billingsly to the hill. Feltz was awarded a save after getting the third out with the bases loaded in the ninth.
Post 21 also beat Sedalia in the winners’ bracket final Saturday, 4-1.
Kyle Combs pitched five innings, allowing an unearned run on five hits, three walks and one hit batter while striking out five. He earned the win.
Tyler Bodenstab pitched the final four innings and was credited with the save. He allowed two hits and three walks while striking out four.
Seeing a state tournament without Festus will be odd to many longtime fans who have followed that event.
But Creve Coeur Post 397 will be trying to follow up on Festus’ past success as the Zone 4 representative.
Creve Coeur, which has never won a state championship at the Senior Legion level, advanced by knocking off Ballwin Post 611 Monday in Ellisville.
While the 10th District is one of the biggest in the state, there hasn’t been a state champion from St. Louis County since 1985, when Kirkwood Post 156 lifted the trophy.
Creve Coeur has played Washington twice this season. Creve Coeur won in eight innings June 10 in Washington, 2-1. Washington won in the semifinals of the Washington Wood Bat Showcase at Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field June 23, 1-0.
Creve Coeur played a number of other Ninth District teams this season, including West, St. Charles, Wentzville, Central, St. Peters and Elsberry.
Matt Hresko leads the Creve Coeur batters while hitting .409.
A total of 11 Creve Coeur batters are hitting .300 or better. They are Eddie Bargmann (.396), Lucas Mueller (.393), Kyle Downey (.387), Evan Block (.354), Dan McCune (.347), Jonathan Rembold (.333), Andrew Childs (.313), Jordan Goldenberg (.310), Connor Coyne (.304) and Brian Hillhouse (.300).
Bargmann, Mueller and Block have hit two home runs this year. Goldenberg has one home run.
Mueller leads the team in RBIs with 45. McCune has stolen 17 bases. Hresko has drawn 17 walks.
Mueller is the team’s top pitcher with a 7-0 record and 0.56 ERA. Keith Coulson has gone 4-0 with a 2.39 ERA. Rembold has a 6-2 mark with a 1.47 ERA.
Rembold pitched the first game against Washington. Hillhouse was the pitcher in the second game.