If American Legion baseball is any indication, Lindenwood University is getting a bargain.
The St. Charles school signed Borgia graduate and Washington Post 218 standout hurler Brendan Kleekamp to a letter of intent during the spring.
Kleekamp will join the school, which moves to NCAA Division II after completing its move from NAIA.
“I’m pretty excited to get going and working out and fitting into this new program,” Kleekamp said. “I’m really excited to get ready for the new season and a new start.”
Kleekamp has been one of the top pitchers not only in the Ninth District, but also in the state for American Legion baseball over the past year.
Starting with a four-hit shutout against Daniel Boone in the 2011 South Division Tournament, Kleekamp became a force during the playoffs.
In the 2011 Zone 1 Tournament at Lindenwood, Kleekamp opened the event by pitching six innings of Washington’s 13-3 win over Jefferson City Post 5.
He came back to go the distance in the winner-take-all game against West, an 8-3 Washington victory.
At the state tournament in Sedalia, Kleekamp pitched six innings in Washington’s win over Fike Post 499.
“It was more my mentality,” Kleekamp said about his playoff run. “I wanted it. I wanted to get to state and I wanted to win state however I could. I knew I had to win this game or else we would have to go home early. I didn’t want to go home early. I just got the mindset that winning was all I had left.”
He then came back to beat Festus in the first game of the championship series, 5-2. Pitching on short rest, Kleekamp lasted six innings to secure the victory.
“I lost a little bit from my fastball,” Kleekamp said. “I wasn’t as dirty as a pitcher as I was at the beginning of the season. I just kept fighting. Sometimes, good things happen when you fight through it. Coach (Post 218 Manager Mike) Gardner just understood I gave everything I got. I was lucky to come out with a win. It was too bad we couldn’t win state, but we got a fresh start and a new season. We’re hoping to get back where we were and maybe win it.”
Last spring, Kleekamp wanted to make sure the Borgia Knights also could finish in a better situation than in 2011. Borgia was a district champion in 2011, losing in the sectional game at Kirksville. But this spring, the Knights had plenty of missed opportunities before being eliminated in the district semifinals by Fatima.
“It was a good season,” Kleekamp said. “I wish we could have gone a little bit further, but Fatima just came ready to play some baseball. The ball bounced their way a few times. They came out with a win. All you can do is tip your hat and wish them luck because they deserved it. We didn’t come ready to play. We can’t be disappointed in the season. It definitely was a good season. You can smile at a 19-8 season which is pretty good.”
Kleekamp came back with a mission for the 2012 American Legion season.
“There’s a lot of revenge in our dugout,” Kleekamp said. “There are a lot of people who want to get back to where we were and beat Festus. They’re great competitors. Every time we play them, it’s great baseball. We’ve already played them close this year. It was in extra innings. We just want to get back to the atmosphere of state. It’s a great time and a great place to be. Everyone is determined. We can get down when we’re not playing up to our full potential, but we’re working around that and we’re winning ballgames and that’s all we expect to do.”
Kleekamp showed he’s still at the top of his game during the Blue Springs Wood Bat Tournament. He tossed a shutout against West, slowing one of the event’s most prolific offensive forces, to lead Post 218 to the title and be named the tournament’s most valuable player.
Kleekamp knows this is a much different situation. Washington lost a number of big bats off of the 2011 team and is making due with a lineup which hasn’t shown the same power potential.
“Whenever you don’t have as strong of offense, the pressure’s on you,” Kleekamp said. “As a competitor, you want to be in that position. You want to be able to control a one- or two-run game. That’s where the excitement of baseball comes in, being able to keep the game as close as possible and that’s where being a great pitcher comes in.”