Same teams, different location.
That’s the theme of the Missouri Junior Legion State Tournament, which started Thursday in Jackson.
Four of the five teams feature players who competed in last year’s Freshman Legion State Tournament in Branson.
Eureka Post 177 won last year’s Freshman Legion state championship, beating Jackson Post 158 in the final game.
Also playing in last year’s state event were Springfield Glendale and Washington.
Glendale and Washington also played at the Junior Legion level year. Post 218 teams didn’t have the best of luck against the Springfield kids last year, losing both at the Junior and Freshman levels.
Washington Post 218 Manager Phillip Kleekamp remembers last year’s Junior Legion State Tournament, played in Joplin, for the wrong reasons.
“Last year, we had a good team,” Kleekamp said. “Unfortunately when we got to state, I think we tried to do too much. We didn’t play any of our best games there. This is a whole new group of kids. I don’t think we have anyone left from last year. We’re looking forward to getting there and showing the rest of the state what the Ninth District and Post 218 are all about.”
Eureka and Jackson (31-7) were in the same zone tournament and Eureka knocked out Jackson. Eureka defeated Ste. Genevieve in the championship series.
Sedalia Post 642 (41-7) knocked out the Independence Indians to advance.
Post 218 heads to Jackson with a 27-4 mark.
Kody Halmich feels Post 218 is peaking at the right time.
“During the regular season, our offense wasn’t quite there,” said Halmich. “Now, our offense is at its peak. We’re hitting it hard and we’re hitting it everywhere. We have a great pitching staff. Our relievers are good. All-around, we’re a pretty good team.”
Washington has made a couple of roster moves prior to the state tournament to fill in openings.
Drew Piontek of the Freshman Legion state championship team moves up for the event. Justin Baylard of the Senior Legion team is coming down.
“We always make sure to fill our roster will age-eligible players from both teams every year if a situation like this does arise,” Kleekamp said. “Both players have been on our roster since the early part of June when the official roster is due to the state.”
Additionally, Garrett Leimkuehler, on the roster, is out this weekend.
The event started Thursday with two games. Jackson edged Springfield Glendale, 3-2, and Eureka shut out Sedalia, 7-0.
On Friday, Washington opens play against Jackson at noon.
The losers’ bracket starts at 2:30 p.m. with Glendale taking on Sedalia.
The winners’ bracket final, between Eureka and the Washington-Jackson winner, goes at 5 p.m.
The day’s final game is between the loser of the Washington game and the winner of the 2:30 p.m. game. That will run at 7:30 p.m.
On Saturday, only three teams will remain. The winner of the Friday 7:30 p.m. game plays the loser of the Friday 5 p.m. game at noon in an elimination contest.
The winner of that game will turn around and play the Friday 5 p.m. game winner at 3:30 p.m. for the championship. If a second championship game is required, it will be played Sunday at 1 p.m.
The winner goes to Leavenworth, Kan., for the Regional Tournament.
Ste. Genevieve Post 150 won the Junior Legion title last year.
One of the reasons Post 218 has been so successful this season is that it’s been able to bring together players from five different schools to become a strong team.
Schools sending players to Post 218 this season have been Borgia, Washington, St. Clair, Hermann and Wright City.
“It’s way different than high school,” St. Clair’s Halmich said. “There, you see everyone every day. Here, you’re a lot closer to your teammates because you only see them during practices and games, so you’ve got to make the most of your time and you get close to them.”
Kyle Tuepker, from Wright City, agrees.
“Even though everyone is from a different school, we seem to get together pretty good,” Tuepker said. “It seems like we have really good chemistry on the team and everyone plays well together.”