The Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s have a chance to win their first American Legion state championship since 2013 later this week.
To do that, they will have to get past one of the top teams in Missouri when they take on Jefferson City Post 5 in the state tournament at 5 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Park Stadium in Sedalia.
Blue Springs advanced to state following an 8-7 win against the Lee’s Summit Outlaws in the winner’s bracket final of the Zone 2 Tournament. The Lee’s Summit Outlaws (29-10) play Festus Post 253 at 8 p.m. Thursday. They made it to state following a 13-8 win against St. Joseph Post 11 in the loser’s bracket final. The A’s and Outlaws elected not to play in the championship round of the Zone 2 tournament since both teams were advancing to state anyway and didn’t want to risk injuries.
“I think they are deciding to realize they can do something special,” said A’s manager Mike Rooney, who was concerned with the team’s effort at times this season. “The attitude has gotten a lot better at the end of the season than it was in the early season and the mid-season. Hopefully we can carry that into the weekend.”
The results lead to a tough matchup for the A’s, as they have to play against a team that consists of some players who were on the Class 5 state champion Jefferson City High School team. Post 5 defeated the A’s 3-2 in their only matchup of the regular season during the championship game of the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational. Jefferson City is coming into the tournament red hot as they outscored teams 31-1 in the Zone 1 Tournament.
“We just have to treat them like any other team,” A’s third baseman, catcher and pitcher Jake Lufft said. “We are going to go out there and try to kick their butts.”
Added A’s first baseman Max Gibler: “I feel like it’s good to get them out of the way and get our best competition out of the way early.”
One of the biggest challenges the A’s will have to face is going against Post 5’s pitching staff, which features two ace-type pitchers at the top of the rotation.
Rooney said he feels his A’s are up to the task as the offense has been the major strong point. The A’s enter state hitting .384 as a team and with a 38-8 record.
“One through nine, we post a serious threat,” Rooney said. “We have a couple of guys hitting over .500 and one guy hitting close to .500. And we have four guys over .400.”
A’s shortstop C.J. July agreed with the veteran manager.
“Everyone is hitting on all cylinders right now,” July said. “We could still improve on our situational hitting and moving up runners and cut down on strikeouts. But our hitting has been pretty good.”
However, Post 5 has a formidable lineup itself and will present a challenge to the Blue Springs pitching staff.
“Their hitting kept them in the game when they played us last,” A’s first baseman Max Gibler said. “They didn’t throw their best pitching that game.”
Added Rooney: “Their pitching is really god but we’ve faced a lot of good pitching all year long. I am not worried about that. I think we hit better against great pitching anyway.”
The A’s will have many options to choose from on who to start against Jefferson City. Blue Springs has a deep pitching staff which features starters Lufft, Ryan McMahan, Chris Liggett, Hayden House, Aaron Bennefield and Gibler, who may pitch if his left shoulder feels 100 percent after being sore all summer.
“We go five deep on starters and they are all very dependable and very good,” Rooney said. “That’s what you need in a three-game, nine-inning series. You need all six of your pitchers ready to go. You will probably use at least two pitchers every game.”
Rooney is confident that his team has a good chance to advance past the state tournament.
“If we play good defense and hit and catch the ball, we can play with anybody,” Rooney said.