Believe it or not, the American Legion baseball season has reached its end.
I had hoped there would be games still to be played when I returned from my vacation to Texas. Unfortunately, there will be no Sedalia trip this year.
With the exception of the Ninth District Junior Legion all-star game in New Haven Friday and the Senior Legion all-star game in Elsberry Saturday, the 2017 season has concluded.
While this year’s campaign didn’t involve any area teams playing at the state level in the Junior or Senior levels, it still was a successful year.
Two Franklin County clubs did play in the Freshman Legion state tournament with Joe Kopmann’s Washington Post 218 Freshman team repeating as the state winner. It wasn’t easy as Post 218 had to go to extra innings in the winner-take-all game against Festus Post 253 in Hannibal. It definitely was one of the most exciting state championships we’ve seen in quite some time.
This was Washington’s fourth state title with the previous three coming in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
Post 218 has been a force at the state level since 2002, when Freshman ball was added to Missouri Legion baseball. Paul Kamphoefner’s inaugural team finished second in the state tournament that year in Dutzow.
Sullivan Post 18 also had an outstanding season in Freshman ball and finished fourth. Lane Wiese’s program has come a long way over the past two seasons and hopefully this will mean good things for the future of Legion baseball in the Sullivan area.
The big story in Junior Legion baseball was the postseason run of New Haven Post 366. Hansi Bloch’s team scraped together players who were double-rostered and blitzed through the Ninth District Tournament after being seeded eighth. New Haven needed a winner-take-all game to eliminate two-time defending state champion Washington Post 218 in the Ninth District Tournament championship series.
New Haven’s season came to an end at home in the Zone 1 Tournament, unfortunately. The strain of having to field competitive teams at two levels seemed to be too much.
St. Charles Post 312 represented the Ninth District at the state tournament along with a powerful Jefferson City Post 5 squad.
At the Senior Legion level, Washington Post 218 ran the table in the Ninth District regular season and postseason, beating all league competition. Washington, St. Charles and Elsberry Post 226 represented the Ninth District at the Zone 1 Tournament in Washington. Jefferson City Post 5, which recently won the Blue Springs Wood Bat Tournament, beat Post 218 in the Zone 1 Tournament championship game. Elsberry was third. Post 5 is headed to Sedalia this week to represent Zone 1 at the state tournament.
While not every program could advance beyond the district, most had bright spots in the season. Union Post 297’s Juniors were the Ninth District regular season runner-up. This came with a lot of the players who had won their last four games at the Freshman level in 2016.
St. Clair Post 347 had positives at both the Freshman and Junior levels. Despite not making the playoffs, the Pacific Post 402 Freshman team had some strong players.
The one-team programs at Rosebud and Rhineland were able to achieve big wins. Rhineland finished third in the Ninth District Freshman Legion Tournament and was solid all year long.
The Zach Finley-Matt Wade duel when New Haven visited Washington for Ninth District Senior Legion action was an amazing game all around.
The inaugural Washington Post 218 Alumni game also was a highlight. It was great to see a lot of players I’ve covered over the years come back to play the game once again.
I know the biggest question heading into this season surrounded the new USA Baseball Pitch Smart guidelines would impact the game. In the past, there had been inning restrictions, but only in the postseason. With the pitch count limits, that added another dimension to selecting teams. It’s possible a pitcher could reach a pitch count without getting through many innings if he wasn’t hitting the strike zone.
The short answer was that a lot of different players got the chance to pitch. The teams that prepared for having deeper staffs fared better, especially in the postseason. Still, if you weren’t able to get a starter to go most of the game, it led to trouble later on in tournaments.
There was a lot of strategy that went on to try and hold pitchers down in pitch counts so they would require fewer days of rest. On the other side, some teams stuck with starters longer because they knew they would have to have four days off no matter what.
There were multiple occasions where pitchers had to leave games an out away from finishing up a win. Sometimes, the reliever threw just one pitch.
All of the teams will have a better idea how to cope with the pitch count rules next season and will plan accordingly.
If this season was any indication, it will be another successful summer of baseball around the Ninth District in 2018.