Cooper Bailey jumped for joy after sliding across the plate Thursday with the game-winning run for the Union Post 297 Freshman Legion team.
Bailey’s run lifted Post 297 to a 5-4 Ninth District win over Washington Post 218 at Wildcat Ballpark.
“It was a good win for a bunch of guys who haven’t played Legion ball before,” Union Manager Ryan Bailey said. “We came out against one of the better programs year-in and year-out and it was a back-and-forth contested game. We found a way to win at the end. It’s a good win and goes a long way toward helping us get the No. 1 seed in the district tournament and it has a bunch of high school boys playing good baseball.”
Washington Post 218 Manager Joe Kopmann said it was a good game.
“Union comes to play every game,” Kopmann said. “They’ve got a good coach and good players. When they play, they know what’s going on. It was a good game. They got the better of us tonight.”
The win gives Post 297 (8-5-2, 3-0) an early edge in the Ninth District standings. Union is the only undefeated team in the league as of the game’s end.
Washington (6-3, 3-2) gets another chance at Union Tuesday when the teams play the second league game at Rotary Recreational Complex - Ronsick Field. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Thursday’s game featured a pair of young teams learning the finer points of playing at the Freshman Legion level as well as adjusting to wood bats.
“They’re really learning,” Kopmann said. “They have all played select ball, but they’re new to this level. They haven’t seen pitching this fast. Even the speed of the game is new. It’s that much quicker, especially on turf like here at Union. We’ve got to keep learning.”
Washington scored first, taking a lead in the top of the second, but Union came back to tie it in the bottom of the inning and then went ahead in the second, 2-1.
Post 218 again rallied in the fourth, advancing to a 3-2 lead. Union tied it again in the fifth.
After each team scored once in the sixth, it set up the seventh inning.
Union opened the seventh with Bailey lining a single to left field.
Bailey stole second and Hayden Burke was intentionally walked behind him.
Marshall Gebert singled to right field. Washington threw home, but Bailey was able to hustle around and slide home with the winning run.
Liam Hughes started for Union and went 5.1 innings, allowing four runs (three earned) on three hits and four walks. He struck out three.
Alex Kuelker got the win, going 1.2 innings. He allowed two walks and struck out three.
“Liam looked electric for the first two innings,” Bailey said. “After that, he got the ball up in the zone a little bit and got his pitch count up. Overall, he did a good job and threw the ball well. He didn’t give up many hits. He hit his pitch count and came out. Alex Kuelker came in and was really good over the last couple of innings. Both pitchers did a great job.”
Wyatt Sneed started for Washington and went 5.1 innings, allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits and two hit batters. He fanned two.
Morgan Copeland took the loss, going two-thirds of an inning. He gave up one run on two hits and a walk.
Gebert posted three hits for Union while Bailey added two. Nick Birk and Kuelker had one hit apiece.
Burke walked while Birke and Tanner Hall were hit by pitches.
Ryan Ewald posted a sacrifice. Bailey stole three bases and Ewald had one steal.
Bailey scored three of the Union runs. Gebert and Birke also scored.
Gebert posted two RBIs. Burke, Ewald and Colton Morrow each had one RBI.
“You’re not going to have a lot of hits in Legion ball against good teams,” Bailey said. “The wood bats are going to keep certain balls from being hits like in high school ball. When you get a guy on with a solid hit, like Cooper, you’ve got to take advantage of it. Cooper was able to get himself in there. Marshall came through for us and pulled one down the line and we got the run. You’ve got to take advantage of the chances you get in Legion ball and we did that tonight.”
For Washington, Scott Gross posted two hits, including a triple. Cody Vondera had the other hit.
Washington drew six walks. Owen Struckhoff had three of those. Luke Kleekamp, Jacob Baldwin and Sneed each walked once.
Weston Meyer added a sacrifice while Gross, Gavin Matchell and Zach Mort each stole bases.
“We only had three hits tonight and two by one player,” Kopmann said. “We’ve got to get a little more hitting up and down the lineup. That’s coming. They had a couple of good pitchers on the mound who kept us off balance.”
Bailey said it was another good game between two quality programs.
“When you like Union and Washington up in Legion ball, we’re two teams who are close together,” Bailey said. “We play each other twice and see each other in the tournament. It’s nice to get that first win against them. We play them again Tuesday. It will be another close game. It’s always good to beat a good team and play good baseball. I think both teams played good baseball tonight.”