At 6 a.m. on Tuesday, the Festus Post 253 American Legion baseball team boarded a plane in Grand Island, Neb. and flew to Charlotte, N.C.
For the second time in the history of the program, Festus is playing in the World Series. Post 253 played in the World Series in 2009 in Fargo, N.D. Pat Bone managed that club. His son, Zac, will lead Festus on their journey that includes flying over the Smokey Mountains to Charlotte. Post 253 (36-12) will then drive about an hour west from Charlotte to Shelby.
Zac Bone isn’t just the coach. He handles all of the details about travel and feeding a collection of players from Festus, Herculaneum, Hillsboro, Jefferson, Perryville and St. Pius X, who will be missing the first few days of school for those districts starting this week.
“It’s been fun. There’s a lot that goes into it. (Assistant coach Drew Horrell) and I celebrated for about 30 minutes after the game and there was a lot of stuff to get knocked out,” Zac Bone said.
American Legion officials were finalizing TV agreements with ESPN soon after Post 253 beat the Bryant, Ark. Black Sox Post 298 8-3 in the Mid-South Regional championship on Sunday. The Black Sox led Festus 2-0 after the first inning, but Post 253 notched six runs in the fifth to take a 7-2 lead. Jeremy Isenman pitched a complete game for Festus and it was his second win of the tournament.
“We pitched it great all week. We knew we could line up with anybody on the mound,” Bone said.
“Jeremy is a strike-thrower and that’s huge with the pitch counts. He gave up two runs in the first. It was touch and go. For a minute, (Bryant) had the bases loaded with nobody out in the third and we got a double play. The margins between winning and losing are razor thin during this whole thing. Jeremy really gutted it out.”
Infielder-pitcher Jordan Duncan was named the Mid-South most valuable player. Duncan had three hits and two RBIs in the championship game and in a 2-0 victory over Fremont, Neb. he pitched 6 1/3 shutout innings and had an RBI.
In the explosive fifth in the final, Duncan, Jacob Bridges and Levi Ebersoldt produced base hits and catcher Isack Hamilton unleashed a 3-run double down the left field line, wiping the bases clean. Pinch-hitter Brendon Smock, the pitching hero for 253 at state and in the regionals, got an RBI single in the fifth.
Smock pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings in the state championship loss against the Sedalia Travelers on Aug. 3. He had six strikeouts and pitched a complete game in a 2-1 win over Bryant in their first meeting on Aug. 8. Fourteen of Smock’s first pitches to Black Sox batters were for strikes.
“Brendon was absolutely dominant against Bryant,” Bone said.
Hamilton and Christian Hancock provided the two RBIs for Festus in the 2-1 win.
Festus began the regional tournament with a 5-3 win over Emporia, Kan. Post 5 on Aug. 7. Isenman pitched 5 2/3 innings and registered five strikeouts. Duncan earned the save when he struck out four batters in 1 1/3 innings of relief. Bridges, Duncan and Eddie Martin had two hits apiece for 253. Jake Leitner drove in two runs for Festus.
Festus was 3-0 in the regional tournament until it dropped a 5-2 decision to the Hastings Cornhuskers on Saturday. Leitner, a left-hander, struck out four and pitched 6 1/3 innings.
“Jake Leitner was really good on Saturday. We had plenty of guys in scoring position and couldn’t get the lead,” Bone said.
Pat Bone and his wife Patricia and many parents of the players traveled 8 ½ hours from Jefferson County to Hastings. Zac said his parents will be making the trip to Shelby, but he’s not sure how many parents will be there. Zac said the support he’s received from people in Jefferson County has been great all summer.
Festus will represent the Mid-South against the champion from the Western Region at Keeter Stadium today (Thursday) at 1 p.m. The game will be on ESPN 3. Post 253 is back on the field on Friday against the Southeast Regional champ at 7 p.m. That game will be on ESPNU. All games Friday through Monday will be on ESPNU. The World Series championship is scheduled on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNNEWS.
Keeter Stadium has been the site of the American Legion World Series since 2011. It received a $2.8 million upgrade in 2013 and has capacity seating of 5,500. There is a hospitality tent that holds another 100 and it’s free to enter with a paid ticket.
“It’s really an awesome feeling. We’ve always wanted to do it in Shelby,” Zac Bone said. “Everybody says it’s an incredible place to play.”