In the end, it was worth all of the toil and sweat for the Washington Post 218 Freshman Legion team.
Washington (31-11) captured the Missouri State title at home July 20, shutting out Ste. Genevieve in the winner-take-all game, 3-0.
“So if you boil all this down it’s a pretty simple formula,” Post 218 Manager Scott Forrester said. “Post 218 + dedicated coaches + dedicated players + dedicated parents = 2014 American Legion A State Championship.”
Of course, it was not quite as simple as that and the road to the state championship was a rugged one.
In the final game, Washington scored all three of its runs in the top of the seventh inning after beating Ste. Genevieve in the first championship game the previous afternoon, 5-2. That reversed a previous loss to Post 150 in the winners’ bracket finals of the eight-team tournament a day earlier, 3-2.
That capped a miracle season for Forrester’s team, which started the campaign in a hard manner.
Winning a state championship was the last thing on the minds of the players, coaches and fans in the season opener Friday, May 16. Opening in the Post 218 Tournament, Washington was unable to take advantage of opportunities in a 3-1 loss to Wentzville Post 323.
Post 218 had to settle for third place in the tournament, losing in the semifinals to Jackson Post 158, 10-0, but beating Elsberry Post 226 in the third-place game.
“I think taking third place in our tournament at the beginning of the year was a highlight after not making the top three in 2013,” Forrester said. “We still didn’t have any freshmen at that point because the high schools were still playing. It took us awhile to find our identity and believe that we could play on the same level as the best teams in the state.”
Post 218 then opened Ninth District play by splitting a doubleheader at Hannibal May 25.
Washington entered June with a 5-5 overall record, 2-2 in the Ninth District. And Washington dropped a 6-1 game to St. Charles Post 312 June 1.
The next night, Post 218 played in St. Peters.
“The real turning point seemed to be our first game against St. Peters,” Forrester said. “It was a back-and-forth game at the Rec-Plex in St. Peters. We finally took the lead for good by the squeeze play and then two more bunts for runs and we went up 9-6. St. Peters came up and put the first two runners on and then the lights went out and we had a 45-minute delay. I had to bring in Zach Stahlman because of the delay. Zach came in and shut down St. Peters and we won that game. At that point we were 5-6 and the win put us at 6-6. We never dropped below .500 again and we went on a 19-2 run.”
That started a five-game winning streak which lasted until the second game of a doubleheader to Ste. Genevieve June 14.
“The wins against Ste. Genevieve and Festus at the midpoint in the season were another real boost for the team,” Forrester said. “We knew both of the programs were always in the state finals and would bring good teams.”
Post 218 did not lose another Ninth District game for the remainder of the season, checking in at second for the postseason tournament in Elsberry to undefeated St. Charles.
At the Ninth District Tournament, Washington opened with a 10-1 win over West and then sweated out a 3-0 win over Hannibal.
Then, it happened. Post 218 showed what it was capable of doing in a 6-0 victory over St. Charles in the winners’ bracket championship. It was the first time any team had beaten St. Charles all season and made those who pay attention to Legion baseball take note.
Washington scored three runs before Eli Marquart ever took the mound. He made that pay off by tossing a two-hit shutout. He struck out four in the game.
Washington only had seven hits in the game, but made those pay off along with seven walks.
Washington added to its lead with a run in the fourth and two in the sixth.
“Of course, our win against St. Charles in the district tournament was another milestone for the team,” Forrester said. “It was St. Charles’ first district loss. I also believe playing St. Charles three times in a row during the district tournament prepared our team for the level of competition we would face at the state tournament. The players realized they would have to step it up a notch to win state and they did.”
St. Charles had to fight its way back through the losers’ bracket and captured the championship series over Washington that weekend, 5-2 and 2-0. Both teams advanced to the state tournament in Washington.
Post 218 continued its momentum in the state event, opening with a 9-4 win over Eureka.
The second game was against Jackson, a team which whipped Washington in the semifinals of the Post 218 Tournament early in the season.
And Jackson scored three runs in the first, one in the second and five in the fifth to take a 9-1 lead. Post 218 scored in the third inning.
In the sixth, Washington rallied for six runs. Jackson tacked on another run in the bottom of the frame to take a 10-7 lead.
But Washington exploded for five runs in the top of the seventh and held on for the victory, 12-10.
Marquart and Zach Stahlman pitched for Post 218 with Stahlman earning the victory.
Jacob Unnerstall posted three hits with two RBIs and Drew Piontek added two hits, two runs, a walk and three RBIs. Marquart drove in four.
Post 218 took advantage of walks throughout the game, getting 11 for the contest. Two runs scored in the seventh on walks.
Playing in the winners’ bracket finals, Post 218 fell to Ste. Genevieve, 3-2, but came back to beat Creve Coeur Post 397 in the losers’ bracket final, 8-3. Creve Coeur had beaten Washington during the regular season.
In the championship series, Post 218 completed its Saturday doubleheader with a win over Ste. Genevieve, 5-2, to bring everyone back for a showdown Sunday morning for the state title.
And Washington got another key pitching effort by Marquart to win, 3-0. Jeff Peters got the rally started with a double to right center. Ryan McDermott ran for him and Nathan Breckenkamp followed with a walk.
Quinton Poepsel then singled home McDermott for the first run. A two-out triple by Drew Piontek to right field brought home Nathan Breckenkamp and Poepsel with insurance runs.
Marquart capped the shutout in the bottom of the seventh. For the game, he scattered six hits and struck out three batters.
For many players, that wasn’t the end of the season though. Piontek moved up to the Junior Legion team for its own run at the state tournament. Post 218 finished third behind Jackson and Eureka.
A total of 11 Post 218 players were named to the Ninth District South Division all-star team.
Teddy Meyer (catcher), Jacob Unnerstall (third base), Drew Piontek (shortstop), Tommy Ruether (outfield) and Matt Piontek (outfield) were starters. Zach Finley was the starting pitcher.
Tyler Patton (first base), Nathan Breckenkamp (outfield) and Poepsel (designated hitter) were named to the second team. Marquart, Stahlman and Unnerstall also were selected to pitch for the South Division team.
“I think from a player perspective the piece that was missing early in the season was our catching,” Forrester said. “Once we moved Teddy Meyer to catcher teams stopped running on us almost immediately, and rightfully so, since Teddy threw out the majority of the runners trying to steal.”
Pitching was a strength throughout the season.
“Our pitching was great from day one, it was a matter of the coaches learning and understanding their strengths and weaknesses and matching them up with the right types of teams,” Forrester said. “Zach Finley, Zach Stahlman, Jacob Unnerstall and Eli Marquart were the four horsemen so to speak. There is no doubt in my mind or anybody else’s mind in the state of Missouri that our starting four were the best. You throw in Tyler Patton, Drew Piontek, Matt Piontek and Ryan McDermott who all contributed with starts, relief appearances, holds and saves, it’s pretty impressive. They allowed the starting four downtime that was important to allow them to stay fresh throughout a long season.”
Once the outfield was set, that secured another key for Washington.
“Defensively, we were strong all year and had quite a few double plays and runners thrown out at home plate,” Forrester said. “Moving Tommy Ruether to center field, Nathan Breckenkamp to left field and Matt Piontek solidified the outfield.”
Defensively, Forrester felt confident with Patton and Poepsel platooning at first, Marquart, Finley and Michael McElwain at second, Jacob Unnerstall and Maguire Landwehr at third and Drew Piontek and Logan Gratza at shortstop.
“Offensively, Drew Piontek and Tommy Ruether were the most consistent and productive players, however, Matt Piontek, Eli Marquart, Jacob Unnerstall and Nathan Breckenkamp all had productive years as well,” Forrester said. “Teddy Meyer and Jeff Peters always seem to come through in big game situations with key hits or base running. Ryan McDermott was lights out on the bases and stole more bases than anyone else. He also was our runner for our pitchers and scored many runs in situations where the pitchers would not have. Jack Piontek and Michael McElwain also contributed key hits and plays in the field that helped this team throughout the season.”
“So Supportive of Baseball”
Forrester said the Post 218 involvement with the program sets Washington ahead of most other teams.
“The other things that make a great team are the coaches, the parents and your supporters,” said Forrester. “Let’s start with the supporters because without Post 218 there would be no baseball teams. I have traveled all over this state playing baseball for 25 years and in all that time I have never seen an organization that is so supportive of baseball. When we go to the other towns and cities to play baseball there is no Legion pledge read, they don’t play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ before the game. Most places don’t have a concession stand and you sure don’t see members of the posts at the games. Then there is Ronsick Field, (‘Americana at its finest’). Post members are all about helping in any way they can. The Legion pledge is read and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is played every game. The smell of barbecue or fried fish permeates the air. It just does not get any better. And everyone from the visiting teams, the visiting parents, and the umpires will all tell you that Ronsick and Washington is the place to come and play ball. Why? Because of Post 218.”
Forrester is thankful for the support of his coaches, Jordan Bierbaum, Jack Kopmann, Joe Kopmann and Phil Mallinckrodt.
“They were invaluable to me as a coaching staff,” said Forrester. “None of these guys have sons in the program but they dedicate their summers to the post and baseball. Jordan and Jack were the youngest coaches and the players really seemed to identify with them and respect their judgment. They both brought a perspective that Phil, Joe and I did not have and were the perfect fit to a great staff.”
Bierbaum and Jack Kopmann usually were in the coaches boxes and their style was to be aggressive.
“Jordan handled third base and Jack was our first base coach and they both bought into the aggressive pressure approach to running and stealing bases as well as manufacturing runs,” Forrester said. “I would say the game against Ste. Genevieve that we won 1-0 (June 14) was the perfect example. Ste. Genevieve no-hit us but we won the game.”
The two older coaches played key roles as well, keeping the team morale up in the dugout.
“Joe and Phil were the calming factor and always working on the players and their attitudes,” Forrester said. “If I heard once I heard a hundred times, ‘Just be calm boys, things will be fine. Just stay the course and good things will happen. Be patient and the breaks will fall our way.’ It paid off in the state championship more than once. We were down to defending state champ Eureka 4-1 and came back. We were down 9-1 against Jackson and came back. We lost to Ste. Genevieve and had to come back and beat them twice and we did. Why because Joe and Phil instilled confidence in this team and their abilities.”
A key factor, often overlooked, is the support of the families.
“Sometimes the parents of a baseball team can make or break a team,” Forrester said. “It’s all determined by how they act in the stands during games, if they buy into the team approach, accept their son’s role on the team and how much the parents get involved in the support of the team, things like working concessions, helping with field prep and scorekeeping, just to name a few.”
Forrester said the state tournament was an extra challenge for this year’s parents.
“Plus this year our parents had to staff the state tournament here at Ronsick Field,” Forrester said. “They stepped up to the challenge and made the tournament one that none of us will soon forget. The Legion baseball commissioner and the Missouri State Legion commander both commented numerous times how much fun they had and what a great event we put on. The parents raised additional money for Post 218 by selling pork steak sandwiches and plates that were donated by the parents. And, of course, the true testament of how good our parents were came from the umpires that called our games. Without fail after every game usually at least one umpire would comment on how well behaved our parents are.”
In 2014, all of those factors came together to bring another state title, the second Freshman Legion crown (to go with 2012) and sixth overall, to Post 218.