SEDALIA — For the first time in three consecutive trips to the Missouri Senior Legion State Tournament, Washington Post 218 has tasted victory in its opener.
And Washington’s 6-1 win over Hillcrest Post 69 is one which could make a tremendous difference in the event.
“We learned that last year,” said Post 218 Manager Mike Gardner. “You don’t want to get into the losers’ bracket on the first day. It’s too tough. You’ve got to use too many pitchers.”
Post 218 (37-7) now faces Creve Coeur Post 397 (35-12), a team Washington split with earlier in the season, in the winners’ bracket final Friday at 1 p.m.
“It’s a good feeling right now,” Gardner said. “We’ve got to come out and hit the ball well, get some good defense and some good pitching tomorrow.”
Creve Coeur pounded out 17 hits in beating Independence Post 21 in the second first-round game at Liberty Park Stadium’s Dey Field, 8-1.
Gardner said he wasn’t certain which of Washington’s other pitchers would throw in that game.
Hillcrest (21-24) plays Independence (34-14) at 4 p.m. Friday in an elimination game.
Post 218 took advantage of eight shutout innings by Tony Helfrich, who outdueled Hillcrest’s Tyler Ray, to maintain a slim lead.
“It wasn’t that tough,” Helfrich said. “I knew my team would get some runs behind us. Once we get on a roll and once we get one, we try to get multiple runs.”
Gardner said Helfrich gave Post 218 the outing it needed.
“It was very important for us to get off on the right foot,” Gardner said. “That’s why we had Tony Helfrich on the mound. We knew he would go out and give us eight or nine innings and wouldn’t allow a bunch of runs. That was a key for us.”
Helfrich threw 98 pitches, 62 of them strikes, while allowing just three hits and one walk. He fanned eight Merchants in the game.
“I really wanted to go back out there, but I understood that they wanted to save me for later in the tournament,” Helfrich said. “It was time to rest for other games.”
Helfrich’s always threw with the lead after leadoff batter Grant Eckelkamp doubled to start the game and came home on a sacrifice fly by Dilan Bollmann.
In the top of the eighth, Hillcrest gave Post 218 the edge it needed.
Ray received credit from the Washington dugout.
“You’ve got to give him credit,” Gardner said. “He kept us down. We hit the ball pretty hard sometimes, but it usually was in the air to the deep part of the ballpark where the center fielder could track it down. He pitched a pretty good ballgame against us.”
Ray had been matching Helfrich for most of the game, ran into a bit of trouble in the eighth, but seemed to be out of the jam when Matt Jones grounded a ball hard up the middle. Ray knocked it down and threw to first, but the ball went wide of first baseman Deric Link, allowing Dilan Bollmann and Trent Leimkuehler to scamper home with two insurance runs.
That’s all it took to break open the offense.
Jones went all the way to third on the play and Dustin Howard followed with a single to left to make it 4-0.
Howard came home when Sam Deschenes turned on a Ray inside fastball and lined it over the fence in the left field corner for a two-run home run.
“It felt good,” Deschenes said. “I just wanted to get a piece of something.”
Reports after the game indicated he hit it for his mother, who was in the stands celebrating her birthday.
“We’re pretty excited,” Deschenes said about the victory. “All we’ve got to do now is just win ballgames.”
That was it for Ray, who went to right field after throwing 127 pitches over 7.2 innings. He allowed one earned run on six hits and four walks while striking out three.
Dallas Williams threw the final 1.1 innings, hitting one batter. While Washington threatened in the ninth, Hillcrest came up with a key double play to help get out of the jam.
Post 218 turned the game over to Zach Pointer in the ninth inning. He allowed one run on two hits and one walk, but came back to earn a strikeout to end the game.
“We wanted to get Zach Pointer out on the hill and get him some confidence,” Gardner said. “He deserves to be out there on the hill. We trusted him to get the job done.”
Post 218 made key plays when needed, but Helfrich didn’t allow Hillcrest to mount any rallies of note.
Washington ended with six hits and stranded six runners. Hillcrest had five hits (two in the ninth) and left seven runners on base.
Trent Leimkuehler was the only Washington batter with multiple hits. His hard line drives were caught, but two short flies fell in, one in right field and another in left. He scored one run.
Eckelkamp walked, doubled and scored. He also was hit by a pitch and stole a base.
Howard singled, scored and drove in one run. Deschenes hit the home run, scored once and plated two.
Jack Kopmann also had a hit.
Bollmann put down a sacrifice while also walking twice. Howard and Leimkuehler stole bases. Mike McGilvray also walked.
Hillcrest made three errors in the game. One led to the big inning. Another could have led to a big inning in the ninth. Despite the errors, Hillcrest came up with some huge plays.
Center fielder Joel Lewallen snagged several hard hit liners. Left fielder Jarrod Harmon delivered a strike to the plate for a fly out-throw-out double play in the top of the ninth.
Nate Turner led Hillcrest with two hits. Williams, Shane Smith and Weston Buchanan contributed the other hits. Harmon scored the run after being hit by a pitch. Smith secured the RBI.
Smith and Lewallen walked.