Tony Saggio, Rock; Eddie Martin, Festus

Festus Post 253 base runner Eddie Martin is out trying to steal third base as Rock Memorial 283’s Tony Saggio applies the tag in the American Legion District 13 game on June 25. 

American Legion baseball rosters are subject to change on almost a game-by-game basis.

Summer baseball often takes a back seat to college commitments, family travel or other circumstances afforded to teenagers in this modern age.

When the District 13 tournament begins in Ste. Genevieve on July 16, Festus Post 253 and Rock Memorial Post 283 will be missing two of their best players.

Festus has won the last two district crowns, but this year will be without Michael Brewer, who will be in Hattiesburg, Miss., taking his first classes at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Rock Memorial will lose one of its top pitchers for districts when Colby Starkey reports to the U.S. Navy’s Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, Ill., the day the tournament begins.

If a most valuable player was handed out by District 13, Brewer’s performance during the first month of the season would command it.

The Hillsboro High graduate was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 32nd round of last month’s first-year player’s draft, and his time with Festus almost seems surreal. He clubbed his team-high seventh home run in the third inning that gave them a 6-5 lead against Rock Memorial. Festus kept scoring after the third, while Rock’s offense withered. Festus won the district game 15-5 in six innings on June 25.

“We could play him in center field or at shortstop and he’d be a plus defender,” Festus manager Zac Bone said. “More than being a great athlete, Mike’s a great kid and his teammates are absolutely drawn to him. He likes to have fun, but when the lights are on and the umps say, ‘play ball,’ he’s one of the best I’ve ever been around.”

Starkey is the son of Chris Starkey, the head softball coach at Fox and assistant coach at Jefferson College. Going into the game with Festus, Starkey had a record of 1-1 and an earned-run average of 3.37 for Rock.

After basic training, he will train for a career in aviation electronics.

“I’m starting the next chapter of my life and want to help out my country,” Starkey said.

Festus has the depth to absorb the loss of its best player, while Rock is still building up its program after years of stagnation had it on life support.

Festus starting pitcher Charlie Pratt was uncharacteristically off target from the strike zone in the first two innings against Rock. Pratt walked Ricky Wallace on four pitches to start the game, then gave up a single to Shannon Dowd and hit Cooper Thomas with a pitch. What could have been a monster inning produced two runs – Wallace and Dowd. Tony Saggio’s single plated Dowd, but potential runs were lost when Thomas was thrown out at second base and Saggio was caught stealing.

“In the first two innings (Pratt’s) fastball command was very sporadic,” Bone said. “He didn’t have a great feel for the breaking ball early on, but I think he settled in very nice and he threw up zeroes in the last four innings.”

Not fazed about being down 2-0, Festus rallied for four runs off of Starkey in the bottom of the first. Rock had chances to turn two double plays in the inning, but committed errors instead, opening the gates to Jordan Duncan, Eddie Martin, Brewer and Levi Ebersoldt scoring for Festus.

Jake Leitner (single) and Isack Hamilton (double) provided RBI hits for Festus in the first.

Rock responded by scoring three runs in the second to take a 5-4 lead. Pratt walked Wyatt Daugherty to lead off the frame before striking out the next two batters. Dominic Giannis made it 4-3 with a single, and Wallace and Dowd smacked back-to-back doubles; Dowd’s produced two RBIs.

Brewer began the Festus third with a single through the hole at shortstop. Leitner, who graduated from Festus in 2018 and is playing in his final season of eligibility, took Starkey’s offering over the fence in right field to give his team a 6-5 edge. Jeremy Isenman was up next and hammered a triple. With one out, Starkey plunked Hamilton, and Isenman scored on a ground out to shortstop. Gavin Turley’s two-out bunt single plated Hamilton to make it 8-5.

“I thought we swung it well up and down the lineup,” Bone said. “We took what they gave us in the strike zone and put some balls in play with two strikes, which is something we didn’t do (against Mattoon, Ill., on June 23). We took a lot of strike-three calls at Terre Haute.”

Pratt pitched around two Rock singles in the fourth and Festus put the game away by scoring three runs in the fourth and fifth innings. Martin singled to start the fourth and Brewer crushed a two-run blast next to make it 10-5. Hunter Ward relieved Starkey after he walked Ebersoldt, who came in to score on a passed ball.

“I didn’t want us to throw anything but off-speed pitches (to Brewer),” Rock manager Dan Sigman said. “The one (Brewer) parked in the left-field bleachers, we hung a curveball and didn’t get a good snap on it. He’s a good ballplayer. That’s pretty evident.”

Starkey said pitchers make the mistake of letting Brewer’s reputation dictate the at-bat.

“Don’t let him get into your head,” Starkey said. “Approach him like he’s just another player. My curveball was working against him a few times, but I couldn’t get him to strike out.”

Festus kept up the pressure in the fifth and Turley got aboard on Rock’s fourth error of the game. Duncan’s double sent Turley home and Duncan and Leitner both scored later in the inning. Ward struck out two in the inning.

Logan Warren relieved Pratt before the sixth and Warren retired Rock in order, striking out the last two batters.

“He’s been great for us on the mound,” Bone said about Warren. “He was excellent this spring for (Hillsboro head coach Kevin Lucas), who used him in short relief spots and a closer role. He’s been very good every time we put him out there. He’s going to eat up a lot of innings for us.”

Festus needed one run to end the game on the mercy rule, and after Ward walked Christian Hancock to lead off the sixth, the writing was on the scoreboard. Moments later, Duncan delivered an RBI single.

“The bats went quiet,” Sigman said of his team’s offensive output after the second inning. “We were in the ballgame, moving some guys, and we had the hit-and-run on that kept us out of double plays. But the bats went cold for some reason. They took advantage of a few mistakes at the right time. That’s what they do.”

Post 253 bashes way to final

Festus won its three pool games in the Mid-America Baseball Show Series by a combined score of 45-2.

On Friday, Post 253 beat the Missouri Outlaws South 10-0. On a blistering Saturday, Festus beat the 417 Dodgers 17/18U team 18-0 and the PPA Prime 17U team 17-2. Post 253 fell to the Midwest Prospects 17U 7-5 in Sunday’s semifinals.

Festus hosted Charleston on Tuesday and Wednesday after the Leader deadline and compete in the Metro East Tournament in Belleville from Friday through Sunday.