Overall, it was an extremely successful season for the Washington Post 218 Junior Legion team.
Washington finished at 28-6, finishing third in the Missouri State Tournament.
“Obviously, when you play in the state tournament, it was a heck of a season,” Post 218 Manager Phillip Kleekamp said. “It was a privilege to coach these young men. I think they grew and improved a lot over the season. That definitely was our main goal. We want to win our district tournament and get to the playoffs, but as long as the kids are improving, continuing to get better, and striving to learn, it’s also a win in our book.”
Post 218 also played in one game which was suspended while tied in the seventh inning.
“Overall, it was a great season,” Kleekamp said. “We’re looking forward to having the majority of these kids back next season. Of course, it depends on what the Senior team decides to do. Most of these players are eligible to return age wise.”
During the Ninth District regular season, Post 218 finished third in the league standings with an 18-4 league record, placing two games behind Elsberry and one game behind Union.
“I knew we were as good, or better, than the top seeds and we were able to finally able to do that in the district tournament.”
Washington caught fire during the Ninth District Tournament, going undefeated in the event.
“We’ve won a lot of district tournaments in the past and have been to a lot of zones, but this one was more earned than any other. We started by beating Wentzville in a game which started an hour late. We beat a tough Union team with a great pitching performance by Adam Gauzy. We came back with the most exciting game of the year against St. Peters. We came back and beat Elsberry on Gus Kleekamp’s first start of the year. We definitely earned the championship.”
Post 218 followed that by winning the Zone 1 Tournament without a loss.
“The kids obviously played well in the zone tournament at Borgia,” Kleekamp said. “We had good outings and started hitting the ball a lot better. We did that at the state tournament, too, but we didn’t find the holes against Jackson.”
At the state tournament in Jackson, Washington sandwiched a win over Glendale between losses to Jackson and Eureka.
For Kleekamp and his coaching staff, it was an interesting season all the way from choosing the roster. Washington blended players from Washington High School, Borgia, St. Clair, Hermann and Wright City onto the roster.
“I’m happy with the way the kids came together,” Kleekamp said. “Having kids from five different schools, you never know how it will work out. They all seemed to get along. The guys assumed roles and did a really good job adjusting. Playing for Post 218 is a privilege. It’s one of the best programs in the state.”
Kleekamp adjusted the roster all the way up to the deadline and utilized everyone through the playoffs.
If that wasn’t enough, Kleekamp and his wife, Mary, had a son (Jack) during the season.
Washington’s comeback against St. Peters in the Ninth District Tournament winners’ bracket final at Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field Friday, July 11, will be talked about for quite some time.
Washington rallied from an 11-7 deficit in the bottom of the 10th inning to win the game on a Michael Sinnott squeeze bunt.
“It was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been involved with as a player or coach,” Kleekamp said. “To see the kids battle back and overcome adversity to win it on Michael Sinnott’s squeeze bunt is something I’ll remember and they will, too. That was a tough ballgame. St. Peters was hitting their stride at the right time of the year.”
But Washington wouldn’t have gotten there without Adam Hinson hustling home as St. Peters was slow to get the ball back to the pitcher following a passed ball to tie it in the bottom of the seventh inning.
After St. Peters scored four times in the top of the 10th, Washington came back to triumph in the bottom of the frame.
Post 218 pitchers Gauzy, Matt Miller and Kody Halmich threw no-hitters during the season.
Washington won 11 games by shutout during the season while only being shut out once.
“Our biggest strength was our pitching staff,” Kleekamp said. “Adam Gauzy pitched some really big games this year. He had some tough draws and really stepped up. Matt Miller was an older kid on the team. When he was on, he was tough to beat. He pitched his best game against Glendale in the state tournament with 15 strikeouts. We had guys backing them up, James Dyson, Zach Marquart, Kody Halmich and others. They all delivered big starts for us this year.”
Miller tossed the final shutout, beating Springfield Glendale in the state tournament, 8-0. He struck out 15 batters in that game.
Kyle Tuepker hit the team’s lone home run this season, but picked the right time to do it, coming through in the championship game of the Zone 1 Tournament against Chillicothe.
Eight Post 218 players earned all-star status during the season, but weren’t able to play in the postseason game in New Haven due to the state tournament.
Named to the all-star roster were shortstop Gus Kleekamp, catcher Zach Marquart, Miller in the outfield, Halmich at second base, Tuepker at third base, Trey Hunter in the outfield and pitchers Gauzy and Chris Schweissguth.
Washington only won once against Union Post 297, 2-1, but it came during the Ninth District Tournament and forced the second seed into taking on regular season champ Elsberry in the losers’ bracket.
“The Ninth District is always tough,” Kleekamp said. “Union coming through made it that much tougher. They had a solid team. They had most of the high school team on the Junior Legion level. They had our number twice during the regular season and ultimately made us a better team. Elsberry was just as tough. The district may have been top heavy, but it definitely was a lot tougher than in years past.”
All three games were epics against Union with a 12-8 loss at Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field June 3 and a 1-0 nine inning loss at Union June 22.
At the state tournament, Post 218 picked up the offense, scoring 18 runs in a row against Glendale and Eureka before the bats went silent.
The nine-inning 11-10 state loss to Eureka was not how the team wanted the season to end. Washington led 10-0 going into the bottom of the fourth inning and watched as Post 177 chipped back to tie it in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“The last game of the season was not the way we wanted to go out,” Kleekamp said. “We would have had a heck of a time trying to come back and beat Jackson twice. I think a lot of our guys were out of gas after playing twice Friday and then coming back to play Saturday afternoon. We would have liked to get into the championship series. It’s still a hard loss to digest. As time goes by, we’ll realize what a great season it was.”
Going into extra innings helped neither team on the hot and dusty day. Eureka won, but fell in the championship game to Jackson, 7-6. In that game, Eureka trailed 3-0 before starting to come back, tying it in the top of the seventh, 6-6.
Kleekamp credited everyone who helped this season.
“I’ve got to thank my coaches,” Kleekamp said. “I couldn’t do it without Kent Getsee. He’s one of the hardest working and smartest baseball guys I know. Joe Huber, Rick Aholt and Eric Voelkerding were all great for us. Joe and Eric are former Post 218 players and state champions. Rick has been involved in our program for a long time.”
Kleekamp said it’s impossible to run a successful Legion program without the leadership of people such as Don Schneider, who makes sure the concession stand is one of the best in the state.
“The reason is because of the administration of Don and all of the guys behind the scenes to get the program to where it needs to be,” Kleekamp said.
Finally, Kleekamp said good support from the families was another strength for the team.
“The parents stepped up, got along and helped to make this one of the best programs in the state.”