Everybody loves an underdog.
And maybe that’s what makes the New Haven Post 366 Junior Legion tale so endearing.
Squeezing into the Ninth District Tournament as the eighth, and final seed, Post 366 has moved from last on the list to the top of the heap.
Just how that happened was a success story which should inspire everyone. The Post 366 program actually is one of the youngest in the Ninth District. Hansi Bloch runs the program and has been the field manager for the two younger teams.
To say Bloch has put the program together with chewing gum, paper clips and twine might be a bit simplistic, but he’s had to make due with the players he’s been able to get from many different places.
“We had a little struggle this year because of teams in Owensville (Rosebud) and Hermann (Rhineland), so we had to battle this year to make it work,” Bloch said. “It was tough trying to make it work. We moved kids around. I probably have half of the A (Freshman) players. I made it work and I love it. It’s great.”
Bloch has had to use many players on multiple rosters, something that’s been made even tougher by the new pitching rules. Last season, the entire Junior Legion team was double-rostered and two were triple-rostered.
Fortunately, New Haven has been able to still take in the Senior Legion aged players from Hermann and Owensville and Junior Legion players from Hermann. Freshman Legion players from the Owensville area also have been able to come over.
“We struggled,” Bloch said. “I had a hard time putting the team together because I don’t have the players. I’ve got a lot of these young kids who belong here, but they’re also playing AAA (Senior Legion). We have to move them up. I have a lot of A (Freshman Legion) players I’ve got to use as well. We just don’t have the numbers and I have to keep the program together. I didn’t want to lose it. It was hard to do with what I had.”
Maguire Landwehr, the winning pitcher in the winner-take-all game, said it’s taken time to get the team to play as a cohesive unit, but that’s paying dividends now.
“It’s taken a lot,” Landwehr said. “I started playing three years ago after my freshman year here at Washington. Even on the AAA (Senior) team, it’s taken a lot of years to gel with the friendships. When a kid is struggling on the mound, we call time and go out to settle him down. It’s take time for everything to develop to where we feel comfortable playing together.”
This year’s roster included making some finds among players who didn’t make other rosters. Ace Nate Rickman didn’t play high school ball this spring because he didn’t make the team. He’s become one of the top pitchers in the Ninth District and has put down some of the league’s top teams, including regular season champion St. Charles Post 312.
Additionally, the team also has players from its host town, who have come from a high school team that hasn’t won a game in two seasons.
Bloch and his staff have instilled pride into the players. New Haven’s win over Washington Post 218 in the Junior Legion District Tournament last Thursday at Borgia came because of things everyone did. Fielders made the big plays when they had a chance and took advantage of Washington’s mistakes. Solid pitching from Trent Kormeier, defense, hustle and grit led to the 2-1 victory.
New Haven showed resilience in the championship series against Post 218 Saturday at Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field. Washington came out with a mission and won the first game, 10-0, to force a winner-take-all game. It’s somewhere Post 218 has been in the past and Washington jumped on top with a squeeze bunt scoring a run.
New Haven gave the ball to Landwehr and he kept Washington from adding to that advantage. Finally, New Haven broke through for six runs in the bottom of the fourth, taking advantage of Washington mistakes, to eventually win the game, 9-3, and earn the right to host the Zone 1 Tournament later this week.
With this zone earning two spots in the state tournament the following week in Independence, there’s no reason to believe the journey is close to being over.
For these kids to find success in Legion baseball should give them confidence to excel for their high school teams next fall.
For the older kids, it might turn into scholarship offers. Matt Wade, a pitcher on the Senior Legion team who threw a no-hitter against Washington Post 218 earlier this season, is headed to Truman State to play in the fall.
While this is Hansi’s first program, it’s not his first time around the coaching block. He was Tim Malloy’s top assistant coach with the Washington Post 218 Seniors when it made a miracle run of its own in the 2000 Ninth District playoffs. His son, Jeff, was one of the players on that team.
Post 218 entered the tournament with a losing record (but was 16-12 in Ninth District games that year) and that was one of the years every team qualified for the postseason.
Making six errors in the first inning, Washington was in danger of being blasted by Central in the opening round of the tournament and was down 11-5 after six innings. Somehow, Washington rallied to win, 15-13.
After being blown out by Bill Brown’s C&H juggernaut in the second round, Washington fought back through the losers’ bracket and it seemed like there was a game every night or day at Blanchette Park.
With Jeff Bloch and Dane Carver highlighting a blue collar lunchpail gang type of team, Post 218 slowly knocked off all competition and emerged in the championship series against C&H.
I’ll never forget the smile Tim Malloy had on his face after accepting the second-place trophy. It was a look of vindication that everything he and Bloch had tried to tell the team over the season had finally sunken in and the players excelled at the right moment.
The second-place finish allowed Post 218 to enter the Zone 1 Tournament at C&H. Post 218 upset Jefferson City Post 5 in the first round and had C&H down in the second game before losing and having to play Jefferson City again. Former Mizzou Tiger and Helias football Head Coach Phil Pitts hammered three home runs in that game.
Unfortunately, Washington was in the three-team portion of the five-team tournament with the top two teams. C&H ended up winning the title over Jefferson City.
While Post 218 ended its season at that time, it still showed that any team with some fight that peaks at the right time can achieve. It’s something that Bloch has carried over to this year’s New Haven squad.
“This run is as much fun,” Bloch said. “I had a lot of fun with Tim, too. I loved coaching with him that year. We had a great team. We came through the district tournament as a low seed and we had the zone won, but we lost to C&H. We had them beat and we blew it. I was proud of those guys, too. This is starting to be the same thing. It’s fun when you come from the No. 8 seed to win. That means you’re playing some great ball.”
I would love to know what Malloy thinks of his former assistant’s new success. Sadly, we lost Tim several years back to cancer. He is greatly missed. Tim, and many others around the area, spent a lot of time helping young athletes become better baseball players and people through disciplined training.
Bloch still has tremendous respect for the Washington Post 218 program, which has become a model for everyone in the Ninth District.
“Washington is always good,” Bloch said. “I respect them because I’ve been here and coached here. Their organization is great. I have nothing but good things to say about their program.”
If Hansi has his way, people will be talking the same way about New Haven Post 366 as a Ninth District power for years.