Scott County Legion opens zone tournament against defending state champs

Thursday, July 27, 2006
Scott County catcher Aaron Jenkins, left, prepared to tag out Kenny Abernathy of Dunklin County during the first game of Sunday's District 14 championship in Chaffee, Mo. (Mike Buhler)

Scott County's American Legion team will be marching into familiar territory when the Zone 4 tournament begins today in Ellisville, Mo.

Only two years ago, more than half of the current Scott County squad was competing in the American Legion junior zone tournament and nearly made its way to the state tournament, dropping the championship game 1-0.

"We've been there already and should have done better than we did, so we have high expectations that we should do better than we did before," Scott County outfielder Chad Friend said.

The opening-round zone opponent for Post 369 is Festus, which Scott County edged 2-1 two years ago in the opening round of zone play. But Scott County will enter as a heavy underdog for today's 5:30 p.m. contest against the defending state champions.

"I believe everyone on this team knows we have the capability of beating anyone around," pitcher/first baseman Jon Simpher said. "From what I've seen this summer, if we play good baseball, we can beat anyone."

This is only the second year for the current version of the Scott County American Legion team. Last year, Scott County encountered its share of growing pains with a roster full of first-year senior Legion players, but with its past success the team knew the hard times would not last.

Scott County came out early in the season playing well, taking three of four nine-inning district games. As the season wound down, Post 369 did not appear headed back to the zone tournament, dropping eight of nine games heading into the District 14 tournament. Taking two of three from top-seed Dunklin County helped secure Scott County's spot.

"We had so many people coming back from last year, we didn't lose a lot, and those two Advance kids [Trenton Moses and Rusty Hendricks] we picked up helped us out a lot," Simpher said. "We expected to make a run at district, if not win it."

Eight of Scott County's 13 players have played together for most of their careers. And along with their time together on the Scott County team, the starting lineup has a Notre Dame Regional High School feel as well. The batting order at times during district play featured three Notre Dame players in the top three spots and five of the nine hitters in the lineup.

"Eighty percent of this team has been together through the all-stars," coach Tom Dirnberger said. "They've got confidence in each other."

The three new additions to the lineup this year are Advance seniors-to-be Moses and Hendricks, and Notre Dame graduate Aaron Jenkins. Moses has crushed the ball in his first season of legion play. He is coming off a 6-for-8 performance in Sunday's deciding championship games against Dunklin County. Hendricks has started at shortstop, and Jenkins is the team's starting catcher.

Simpher has led the pitching staff and could get the start tonight. Left-hander Andy Stephens is also a candidate for the start after beating Dunklin County twice during the district tournament.

Festus has put together another strong season and likely enters as the favorite to win the zone. Entering district play, Brad Buehler led the squad in hitting with a .412 average, Danny Fasnacht had a team-leading seven wins and Festus' top seven pitchers had ERA's under 3.00.

The other teams in Zone 4 include Anheuser-Busch, host Eureka and Ballwin. Despite their strong play in the district tournament, Post 369 will likely be considered a darkhorse to advance.

"Hopefully we can represent the area well," Dirnberger said. "We don't want it to be two and out. I don't think anyone up there will swing the bats better than Dunklin County did."


ZONE SCHEDULE

Today

* Game 1: Scott County vs. Festus, 5:30 p.m.

* Game 2: Anheuser-Busch vs. Eureka, 8:30 p.m.

Friday

* Game 3: loser of game 1 vs. loser of game 2, 10 a.m.

* Game 4: Ballwin vs. winner of game 2, 1 p.m.

* Game 5: winner of game 3 vs. loser of game 4, 5:30 p.m.

* Game 6: winner of game 1 vs. winner of game 4, 8:30 p.m.

Saturday

* Game 7: losers bracket final, 1 p.m.

* Game 8: championship, 6 p.m.

Sunday

* Game 9: championship, if-neccessary, 10 a.m.

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