Blue Springs Post 499 Fike enters as favorite in American Legion Zone 2 Tournament
Blue Springs Post 499 Fike manager Matt Hagerty says his team is about as ready as it can be for the Zone 2 Tournament.
Fike (22-13), which completed a 14-2 run through the league’s regular season schedule, enters as the top seed in the American Legion baseball tournament that decides which team will advance to next week’s state championships in Sedalia.
Hagerty said his team appears to be mostly healthy heading into its first-round matchup against No. 8 Bethany at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Hidden Valley Park’s Jim Moran Field.
“I think we are getting healthy. We have had some pitchers with some minor injuries that seem to be getting better,” said Hagerty, who added that he expects to have his full roster ready for the tournament.
Hagerty thinks pitching is his team’s strong suit as it heads into the Zone 2 tourney. Johnny Miles (7-2 with 44 strikeouts), Jacob Rehkow (5-1, 3.82 ERA, 35 strikeouts) and Trent Trieb (3-2, 3.84 ERA) lead the way on the mound for Fike.
Hagerty is hoping his team can back them up with better defense.
“The keys for us are to play solid defense, not give away extra outs and get timely hitting. This goes for all teams in this age range,” Hagerty said. “I think we have a good pitching staff that has been effective of late."
Fike is led at the plate by Kayden Albertson, who is hitting .341 with a pair of home runs, 27 RBIs, 38 runs, a .546 on-base percentage and a 1.001 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Brad Kitsmiller (.395, nine doubles, 25 RBIs), Ty Campbell (11 extra-base hits, 25 RBIs) and Jaxon Rogan (.333, 26 RBIs, .505 on-base) are also having strong seasons.
Oak Grove Post 379 (19-7, 11-5 Zone 2) enters as the second seed and will meet No. 7 Kansas City Teamwork Sports, a team made up of mostly Rockhurst High School players, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on Jim Moran Field.
Oak Grove manager Jeff Wright is hoping his team isn’t too rusty after losing eight games to weather in the final two weeks of the regular season.
"Overall, I am pleased with how we look going into the postseason,” Wright said. “Wish we had more games of late to potentially get on more of a roll, but when we have played, we have played well. The weather just didn't cooperate the last two weeks of the season, and we lost eight games.”
His team also will be a bit shorthanded but hopes to make up for it with strong pitching and defense.
“I would say our biggest strength is our pitching and defense,” he said. “We have certainly had our rough spots during the season, but overall, our pitching and defense have been pretty steady all year long. We have unfortunately lost a couple of players for this tournament that will hurt our depth, but we feel that our players are versatile enough to step into whatever role we put them in to allow us to do well this week.”
Oak Grove has a knack for getting on base with five players with an on-base percentage (OBP) over .500. Aden Jones leads the team with a .441 average and has 16 RBIs and a .529 OBP. Brody Armstrong (.381), Cole Chaney (.313) and Dalton Chaney (.317) each have 20 RBIs, and leadoff hitter Haiden Armstrong sets the table with a .344 average, 31 walks, 38 runs, 15 RBIs and a .565 OBP.
Shayton Wright, who is hitting .321 and leads the team with 21 RBIs and 41 runs, has been the top pitcher with an 0.92 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 38 innings. Jones (1.62 ERA) and Connor Hernandez (3.09 ERA, 31 strikeouts) have also been stalwarts on the mound.
“Going into the zone tourney, we need to continue to pitch well, play solid defense, and get the timely hits,” Jeff Wright said. “We will inevitably face some great pitchers in this tournament, and when that happens, we cannot afford to wait around for someone to get us going offensively. We will need to hit the ball and take full advantage of our scoring opportunities.”
The Blue Springs Elks (9-18, 1-13) have struggled at times in their first season in the AAA senior league after several years as the junior feeder program for the now defunct Blue Springs A’s. Elks manager Jeff Barnett said his team will be down to just 13 players because of some injuries.
Colton Hughes leads the Elks with a .396 average, 16 RBIs and a 1.115 OPS, and Brady Lowe is hitting .328 with 15 RBIs. Patrick Maloney leads the pitchers with a 3.50 ERA and 26 strikeouts and Trenton Bukaty has 35 strikeouts and a 4.47 ERA.
Barnett said for his team to succeed, it must get strong play on defense.
"We must play clean baseball. Pitching has been good of late. Hopefully we continue to pitch well,” he said.
The Elks face a tough test in No. 3 seed St. Joseph Post 11, which made it to the semifinals of the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational two weeks ago. They face off at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Hidden Valley’s Field 3.
The No. 4-seeded Sedalia Post 642 Travelers meet the No. 5 Gladstone Herrick Memorial Post 626 Owls at 5 p.m. Wednesday on Field 3 in the other first-round game.
Wednesday’s first-round games and Thursday’s winners’ bracket semifinals and the first round of losers’ bracket play will be at Hidden Valley Park. The tournament then shifts to Sedalia’s Liberty Park Stadium on Friday and Saturday for the final games.