It’s been a pretty good summer for the Jefferson City American Legion Post 5 Juniors.
Scratch that. It’s been a perfect summer.
The Post 5 Juniors carry a 19-0 record into the Missouri Legion AA State Tournament, a five-team double-elimination bracket that begins today in Washington.
“You could tell after the first practice that there was a lot of potential on the team,” Post 5 coach Reid Kesel said. “When they came out there for the first game, it was like they had been playing together for their whole lives. They communicated well and they just played good team baseball.”
Post 5 opens play against Blue Springs Post 2509. First pitch is a 5:30 p.m. at Ronsick Field.
In today’s other first-round games, Sedalia Post 642 plays host Washington Post 218 at 3 p.m. The winner faces Scott County Post 389 at 8 p.m.
The tournament is scheduled to conclude this weekend, with the championship slated for 4 p.m. Saturday. The “if necessary” game would take place at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“We definitely have a lot of confidence going into it, but we’re certainly not overlooking anybody by any means,” Kesel said.
Post 5 has won all five tournaments it has played this summer: the Washington Memorial Weekend Tournament, the Triple Play Baseball Wood Bat Battle in Taos, the Sedalia Wood Bat Tournament, the Fike Wood Bat Invitational in Blue Springs and the Zone 1 Tournament in Kirksville.
The team didn’t have a full roster for the tournament in Washington, as Helias, Blair Oaks, Fatima and St. Elizabeth were still playing high school baseball in the Final Four at O’Fallon.
“When they came out there in the first tournament of the year, a lot of them didn’t even have the Post 5 hat,” Kesel said. “I had to give them hats an hour before the game.”
Still, Post 5 finished 4-0 in the tournament, outscoring opponents 33-0.
“For them to come out there and represent their city, our team and put on a show like that, it’s really impressive,” Kesel said.
When the remaining players joined the team after their high school seasons ended, Post 5 became an even stronger force. Only five of their wins this summer have been by three runs or fewer.
“When we finally got everybody, we had quite a bit of depth at every position,” Kesel said. “It fueled kind of a competitive drive in everybody to be better at their spot. When they’re trying to be better, they’re going to play better.”
Post 5 saw some of its toughest competition at the Fike Invitational, which featured 16 teams. The Juniors won close contests in the semifinals and championship game against teams from Omaha, Neb.
“That was definitely the first time that we saw a little more of a challenge, and we could really tell who we were going to be in those close games,” Kesel said. “To come out of those close games and win that tournament — in the heat of the summer — was something that really speaks to the volume of the talent that’s on the team.”
In the Zone 1 Tournament, Post 5 won all four games by run-rule, outscoring opponents 52-9.
In the championship game against Washington, Post 5 trailed 5-3 in the top of the third inning, one of the few times they’ve been behind in a game all season.
“I went out and talked to the infield, and I just asked, ‘How do you guys feel? Are you guys worried?'” Kesel said. “They just looked at me like, ‘Coach, no, we know we can hit and we’re going to go and do our jobs and we’re going to win this ballgame.’ They came in an scored 10 runs right after that.”
Post 5 is loaded with pitching depth, having put 12 different players on the mound this season. The team suffered a big blow when it lost Gage Cunningham for the season. Cunningham suffered a fracture in his femur on a comebacker during the championship game of the Fike Invitational.
“I hope the best for him and I know he’s going to come back stronger and be great for Fatima the next couple of years,” Kesel said.
Leading the way is Alex Grellner, who has a 3-0 record with just three runs allowed in 16 innings to go with 18 strikeouts.
“He battles, he throws almost a complete game every time he goes out there,” Kesel said.
Nolan Heckemeyer leads the team with a 4-0 record, logging team-highs of 23 innings and 21 strikeouts.
“Nolan Heckemeyer, you can expect him to throw strikes, you can expect him to go the distance, give you 100-plus pitches and always give the team a chance to win,” Kesel said.
Cade Stockman has also come on strong as of late, posting a 3-0 record while striking out 14 batters in 14 innings.
“He’s the guy that we hand the ball to in a game that we know we gotta win, and he’s done exactly that for us this year,” Kesel said.
Offensively, Post 5 is averaging 9.4 runs per game. Eight of the nine starters in the batting order from the zone championship game were batting better than .300 for the season.
“Everybody, one through 13, is a key contributor,” Kesel said. “I’ve had a lot umpires and opposing coaches and parents say that (our) one through nine or 10, whoever’s playing, would be the best on a lot of the teams we’re facing.”
Grellner leads the way with a .463 batting average (25-for-54) and 23 RBI. Andy Hueste is batting .404 with 19 RBI, while Heckemeyer is hitting .375 with 13 RBI.
Landon Plochberger, Braden Hickey, Jaden Hoskins and Landry Bailey are all also batting better than .300 with double-digit RBI totals.
“They have such an approach at the plate that’s beyond their years,” Kesel said. “Their two-strike hitting ability, they trust themselves with two strikes as much as they do on the first strike.”
As a team with an unblemished record, Kesel also said his team has faced most of their opponents’ ace pitchers.
“We know we’re going to see some of the best pitching going forward,” he said. “We’ve got the confidence to know that we can hit them now.”
The winner of the state tournament advances to the regional tournament, which takes place July 25-28 in Birmingham, Ala.
The Post 5 Juniors last won the state tournament in 2017.
“We know we have to go out there and continue to do the things that we’ve been doing and play the brand of baseball we’ve been playing,” Kesel said. “As long as we can do that, I think we’re going to have a good weekend.”
- Middlebrook School Debate Team Win State Tournament
- Three Things To Know: Seton Hall beats Maryland, Auburn’s undefeated
- Warriors’ Steve Kerr ‘open minded’ about NBA’s proposed in-season tournament
- IOCL junior engineering assistant recruitment : Application process begins, here’s how to apply
- Epic Team Deathmatch: New Unreal Tournament Video
- Ten Things To Know: Injuries pile up, Ohio State wins, No. 1 Kansas goes down
- College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Gonzaga or Ohio State at No. 1?
- SF State student dies in Southern California hit-and-run
- Golden State cranks up defense, comes from 17 down to win dramatic Game 2
- Air district whistleblowers awarded $4 million in records-destruction case