MOBERLY — Handing the ball to Cole Distler proved to be the smartest decision the Jefferson City Post 5 Senior Legion team made Sunday.
After Washington Post 218 won the day’s first game of the Zone 1 Championship at the Howard Hills Complex to force a winner-take-all contest, Post 5 handed the ball to Distler.
And he didn’t disappoint, throwing eight innings of shutout ball as Post 5 unseated the defending state champions, 7-2.
“It was a whole team effort,” Distler said. “I just tried to keep the ball low, get ground balls and let the guys make plays for me. There were a bunch of outs recorded by my teammates, so it all goes to them.”
Distler said Post 5 stayed calm and confident between games.
“We were just trying to stay positive and stay together as a team,” Distler said. “We knew no team has beaten us two games this season and we haven’t lost two games in a row. We just had to keep doing the things we’ve been doing all season.”
Distler and many of his teammates have been running into Washington teams in the playoffs for years.
“Playing them is always fun because you know it’s going to be a battle to the end and both teams are going to come out ready to play,” Distler said. “It’s always a good time playing Washington.”
Washington Post 218 Manager Mike Gardner gave credit to Jefferson City.
“You have to tip your hat to Jeff City as they came out and scored three in the first inning,” Gardner said. “It seemed to deflate us a bit. We also could not solve their pitcher. Just like when we faced him in Blue Springs we had plenty of runners on especially early in the game, but we just could not get that big hit to score some runs.”
Post 218 ended its season with a 36-10 record while Jefferson City advances to join Eureka, Rod’s Sports A’s and Joplin later this week in Sedalia.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Distler said about making the state tournament. “When I played Junior Legion, we made it to state and we had to face Eureka in the first round, too. It’s the same deal.”
It’s the first time since 2009 that Post 218 has been knocked out short of the state tournament.
Distler, who also beat Post 218 in the championship game at the Blue Springs Wood Bat Tournament, allowed five hits and three walks while striking out four Post 218 batters over eight innings.
“It was just the same thing as before,” Distler said. “I tried to keep the ball low and let my teammates do the job behind me.”
Defense played a huge role for Post 5 as Distler dealt grounder after grounder to escape jams. Post 5 also turned two double plays to keep the pressure on Washington.
“We’ve been a solid group all year,” Distler said. “We’ll make an error here or there, but as a whole, we’re a good team. I knew they had my back the whole game.”
Washington’s two runs came in the bottom of the ninth inning as Collin Brinker relieved. Jack Kopmann led off with a walk and scored on Tony Helfrich’s two-out double. Sam Katzung chased Helfrich home.
After Grant Eckelkamp walked, Brinker got the third out he needed as Dilan Bollmann popped out in foul territory near first base.
“Give our kids some credit as they did not quit and tried to rally in the ninth,” Gardner said.
For one inning, Brinker allowed two runs on two hits and two walks.
Tyler Tuepker, who saved the first game of the day for Washington, suffered the loss. He started and lasted 4.2 innings while allowing five runs on seven hits and one struck batter.
“With the half-hour turnaround we thought that Tyler could go back out and keep pitching especially since his pitch count was so low from the previous game,” Gardner said.
Matt Jones relieved and allowed two unearned runs on three hits and two walks. He struck out four Post 5 batters.
Offensively, Post 5 got two hits apiece from its 2-3-4 batters, Connor Hager, Distler and Patrick Schnieders each posted two hits in the game.
Hager scored a run.
Distler, who will be playing baseball at MCC-Longview in the fall, helped his own cause with a triple, while scoring three runs and driving in three.
Schnieders scored once and drove in three while hitting a double and a triple.
Dylan Brauner posted a hit and scored a run. He also was hit by a pitch to start the game.
Garrett Haslag had one hit and drove in a run.
Nolan Bax singled and scored. Logan Bax, Brauner and Hager also added sacrifice bunts.
For Washington, Trent Leimkuehler and Noah Borgerding each recorded two hits.
Helfrich doubled, scored and drove in a run.
Eckelkamp singled, walked twice and was hit by a pitch.
Katzung singled and drove in a run.
Kopmann walked and scored.
Dilan Bollmann and Matt Jones each drew walks.
Post 5 took the lead for good in the top of the first inning.
Brauner went to first base after he felt he had been hit by a pitch. Initially called back by the plate umpire, a conference of the umpires awarded him the base.
Hager bunted him to second and Distler singled him home.
Schnieders followed with a triple to the center field fence to make it 2-0. Haslag drove Schnieders in when he grounded out to first base.
In the fourth, Nolan Bax led off with a single to left. Brauner bunted him to second and Bax took third on a hit to center by Hager.
Distler hit the ball to second base and Washington forced Hager at second for the second out. Bax scored on the play.
Schnieders doubled to the center field fence to plate Distler with the fifth run.
In the top of the ninth, Hager reached on an error and Distler tripled him home. Distler came home on a groundout by Schnieders.
While those runs were insurance, it made things a bit easier when Washington rallied in the bottom of the ninth.
“It was tough coming out,” said Distler, who ended the game in right field. “Those three last outs are always the hardest ones to get, but we got it done.”