Wins have been hard to come by for a young Independence Post 21 team.
After a year hiatus, Post 21 is fielding a senior American Legion baseball team for the first time since 2017.
There have been some growing pains along the way as it got off to a 3-15 start to the season. However, Independence may have received a much-needed pick-me-up against the Topeka (Kan.) Senators in pool play of the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational.
Post 21 erupted for five runs in the first inning and right-hander Mason Chance tossed a gem in a 8-0 five-inning, mercy-rule victory Thursday at Hidden Valley Park. Independence later defeated the Trenton (Mo.) Post 31 Blue Jays 15-3.
“It’s a huge confidence booster,” Chance said. “This tournament is a big tournament. It’s great to show a team what we got, show them that they came down here to get beat.”
Chance allowed just two hits, one walk and struck out five in the win. After a shaky first inning in which he went to a 3-2 count with four hitters, he gained command of his fastball in the final four innings. He also got hitters to chase his curveball in the dirt and even struck out the side in the fifth to end it.
“I realized I was trying to go too quick (in the first inning),” said Chance, whose team improved to 5-15 overall and 2-0 in the tournament. “I was trying to rush myself and throw as hard as I could. Then I realized I didn’t need to do that. I just needed to slow down and find my arm slot.
“I started breaking my pitches down as I went. And started to find my arm slot correctly. My curveball was breaking well today. Usually it breaks for a strike, but I couldn’t do that, but I was able to get a lot of batters chasing.”
Locating pitches was the key to Chance’s success, Post 21 manager Greg Lunquist said.
“He did an excellent job,” Lundquist said. “He really moved the ball around. He got it in, high and outside. That was the key.”
Chance got plenty of support from his offense, which tallied 10 hits. Independence Post 21 jumped all over Senators starting pitcher Aaron Neal. Bradley Menzies hit a two-run double to get the scoring started in the first inning; Tyler Johnson added a run-scoring single; and Jaden Melissinas walked with the bases loaded to make it 4-0. Neal was pulled for Chris Hough, and another run scored on a double play grounder by Cody Pleacher to make it 5-0 after the first frame.
“I am never really nervous before a start,” Chance said. “It was good to have that cushion. It was good to rest on the bench after I threw my bullpen and see the guys run the bases.”
Post 21 added another run on a ground out from Pleacher and made it 7-0 when Menzies roped an RBI double to left field in the fourth inning. Pleacher notched the final tally in the fifth with a sacrifice fly.
“It really help us going into our (late) game (against the Trenton Post 31 Blue Jays),” Menzies said of Thursday’s late game at Grain Valley High School. “We hadn’t hit the ball that well. Maybe we need to start swinging wood bats in games more often I guess.”
Menzies paced Post 21 by going 2-for-3 with two doubles, three RBIs and a run scored. Johnson went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
Against Trenton, Cameron Lusso was the winning pitcher as he allowed just one hit in five innings and struck out 10. Menzies was 3-for-3 with a double.