JOPLIN — A loss to Blue Springs Post 499 Fike Saturday at the Missouri Junior Legion State Tournament meant the end of the road for the Washington Post 218 Juniors.
A three-run first inning was all Fike needed in a 7-1 victory over Post 218 at Joe Becker Stadium in Joplin.
“It was a tough one. Fike is a good team. They remind me a lot of our team. They put a lot of pressure on you and they force you to make plays to win,” said Post 218 Manager Phillip Kleekamp. “We made some plays, but unfortunately, we didn’t make them all. Give them credit. They made the plays, a couple more than we did.”
Post 218 (30-4) went 1-2 at the state tournament, losing to Glendale 11-7, crushing Joplin 21-0 and falling to Fike.
Ste. Genevieve (26-2) won the state championship Sunday over Fike (33-18) in a winner-take-all contest, 8-5, and advances to the Midwest Regional Tournament, scheduled to begin Wednesday at Carl Lewton Stadium in Carthage.
After defeating Post 218, Fike made quick work of Glendale, 11-0 in five innings, to advance to the championship series.
“Only one team can win it here. It’s always over so quick. It’s so tough that it kind of takes you by surprise,” Kleekamp said. “We had a great season, a great group of boys. It was a lot of fun. The other coaches and myself really enjoyed coaching this group. We have good kids and good families. The boys matured and they all have gotten better, which has been our goal all along. Our goal is to make them better players for the next level, and I think we’ve done that.”
Most of Fike’s roster consisted of players from Blue Springs South High School. They also had three players from Grain Valley High School.
Fike, the 2012 Junior Legion state champions, got a complete game effort by pitcher Andrew Olsen against Washington.
In seven innings of work, Olsen allowed one run on six hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
“Their pitcher was pretty good. He had a good cutter going. He deserved to win,” Kleekamp said. “We were battling a little bit of an erratic strike zone. Our kids were forced to take swings at pitches that we probably wouldn’t have normally.”
Three of Washington’s six hits came in the top of the second inning, where it scored the lone run.
With two outs, Kyle Summers, Nick Thiel and John Himmelberg stroked consecutive singles to cut Fike’s lead to 3-1.
The second inning was the only time Washington had more than one runner on base at the same time.
Post 218 managed just one hit over the final four innings.
Fike added one run in the bottom of the third inning and three in the fourth.
Ross Seitter led Washington with two hits.
Nate Hillermann, Summers, Thiel and Himmelberg each added one hit. Himmelberg also walked and had one RBI.
Seth Bollmann and Justin Baylard both drew a walk. Summers scored a run.
Spencer Juergens got the start on the mound for Post 218 and suffered the loss. In five innings, he allowed seven runs, five earned, on 11 hits with no walks and five strikeouts.
“Spencer didn’t pitch that bad at all. He’s still trying to find his groove a little, coming back from the injury,” Kleekamp said. “We had to make plays behind him. There are no pitchers here who are going to overpower anybody. We had a couple of errors that we normally don’t have. Spencer dialed it in toward the end, but by that time, the damage was done. We were down by six runs and trying to get back in it.”
Scott Byrne pitched a scoreless sixth inning, allowing one hit and one walk.
The highlight of the game for Post 218 was turning a triple play in the bottom of the sixth inning.
With runners at first and second bases with no outs and the hit-and-run on, Fike hit a line drive to shortstop Bollmann, who made the catch for the first out, flipped the ball to second baseman Aaron Meyer for the second out, who then relayed it to first baseman Hillermann to complete the triple play.
“The triple play was good to see. It kind of woke us up a little bit,” Kleekamp said. “It was nice to get out of that jam. Scotty did a good job bailing us out. The kids did a great job executing the play. If we can take one thing away from the game, it definitely was the triple play.”
Leading Fike’s 12-hit attack was leadoff batter Zachary Ehlen (one of the three Grain Valley players on the roster), who had three hits and scored two runs.
William Meyer, Kaleb Salmon and Olsen each added two hits.
“We saw some good teams here. In the games we lost, I don’t think we played our best games,” Kleekamp said. “There’s a reason why these other teams are at state. They’re going to force you to make plays.”
Kleekamp said the Post 218 pitching staff was a big reason for the team’s success this season.
“Considering we lost one of our best pitchers for the majority of the season (Juergens), our kids really stepped up,” Kleekamp said. “Our three horses, between Aaron (Meyer), Evan (Ayers) and Nate (Hillermann) did a great job. They all had at least six or seven wins. They were fantastic all year. At one point in the season, we had eight complete games in a row. It was an unbelievable pitching stretch.”
The Post 218 Junior team should be solid again next summer.
“We have some kids who can stay down and some kids on Jordan’s (Bierbaum) freshman team who can stay down, so you never know for sure what our team will look like next year,” Kleekamp said. “We didn’t see someone like Kyle Summers come out for the team this year. He was a great asset to our ball club. You never know how the team will look. Hopefully we’ll have all the guys back who are eligible to be back, and then some. We’re always looking to get better.”