The Elsberry Legion Post 226 baseball program had another successful season this summer, highlighted by the AA team’s runner-up finish at state.
Elsberry Legion Post 226 fielded four teams this past season. They fielded one team in the A and AAA age groups and two teams in the AA age group. The experienced AA team made it all the way to the AA state championship. After winning the district title and placing second in the zone tournament, they advanced to the state tournament. They beat Sedalia Post 642 6-5 to advance to the state final. They fell to Washington Post 218 6-0 in the championship game.
Chad Creech, the team’s coach, noted this was the second year with the same core of the players on the team. He believes last year’s experience helped the team this season.
“We had a little success last year,” Creech said. “They carried that over into this year. We had some strong pitching this year and solid defense. That’s pretty much what carried us the whole year. And we play good, solid team baseball. The kids love playing together and it’s always playing for each other.”
All four Elsberry Post 226 Legion teams were comprised of athletes from different high schools in Elsberry and the surrounding areas. The team jelled well from the early part of the season. Creech believes the players’ familiarity with each other helped, since many of the athletes play against each other in baseball and other sports throughout the year.
Creech touted the team’s strong start. They went 15-2 in their first 17 games. After hitting a wall and losing to a couple bad teams in the middle of the season, a win over an 18U team turned the tide. Elsberry Post 226 overcame a three-run deficit in the seventh inning to come back and win the game.
“Ever since that moment there, they just kind of took off,” Creech said. “We got into postseason play and started hitting. That’s what we always said. I said if we ever hit, this team is going to be deadly. Because we could pitch and we could play defense. We were deep at those. And it all kind of came together. Three quarters of the way through, we started hitting. They carried it over all the way through the postseason.”
Creech added the players played 48 games in 55 days. Every game is a seven-inning game. He also stressed the competitive aspect of Legion baseball. The team had to win games in postseason play to advance in tournament play.
“We’ve got district tournament, state zone tournament for qualifying,” Creech said. “It actually makes you feel a whole lot better that you get to qualify for something. You earn it. You don’t just get to pay for it. The kids get a more competitive feeling that way.”
Elsberry Post 226 program director Jason Howard believes the AA team’s success is something they can utilize as they look to continue growing the program. This year was the second time this group made it to state. They also qualified for state at the freshman level.
Elsberry Post 226 has had strong teams throughout the last 15 years under Howard’s tenure. They generally win 20-plus games. The A team and other AA team had stronger seasons than their records indicate, Howard said. Both teams were inexperienced but improved throughout the course of the season.
“For both our freshman team and our second AA team, their record did not reflect it but they had a good season as far as learning and getting better,” Howard said.
Elsberry hosted a Legion zone tournament for the first time this season. They hosted the zone tournament because they won the district tournament.
Creech cited the community support at the postseason games hosted by Elsberry. They had around 100 spectators at the zone championship game, he said. Creech, who played Legion baseball 20 years ago, believes popularity for Legion baseball is slowly increasing.
“That’s all there was. Legion was humongous,” Creech said. “And of course, with all these tournaments now, it kind of took a back seat. And now everybody’s kind of wanting to stop wasting all their money. And we’re just kind of coming back. We started getting more quality kids here.”
Howard believes there are many benefits to participating in the Elsberry Post 226 Legion baseball program. They always offer teams at all three levels. The cost is considerably low, he said. They charged $450 this past season. The cost may be around $500 next year due to what they offer, according to Howard. The program’s focus is to teach the players to play the game hard and to respect and love the game. They also focus on creating and preserving a family atmosphere.
“One of the biggest things that I’ve always preached about our program, and I try to stress this to our coaches, is it’s not just about baseball to us,” Howard said. “Yes, we want to go on the field, win and we want to compete the best we can. But I just think that we’re also trying to help create young men in this world and this society to go out and help this world.”
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