Tough road awaits Cape Girardeau in Senior American Legion zone tournament

Thursday, July 21, 2011
Cape Girardeau's Jimmy Obermark watches his home run during a game earlier this season at Capaha Field. (Fred Lynch)

Post 63 opens the tourney against Creve Coeur today at 3 p.m.

The Cape Girardeau Ford and Sons Post 63 Senior American Legion baseball team fizzled out at last week's District 14 tournament.

Cape hopes to make amends when it hosts the Zone 4 tournament for the second year in a row.

"We're looking forward to it, especially after not really showing up at districts," Cape's Andrew Williams said. "A lot of the guys really want to compete after that ... to prove what we've got one more time."

The winner of the five-team double-elimination event that begins today at Capaha Field advances to next week's American Legion state tournament in Sedalia, Mo.

"It's going to be exciting with all that talent here," Cape coach Todd Pennington said.

Cape has had another impressive season, going 26-14. But after winning the previous two District 14 tournament titles, Post 63 went 0-2 last week in Sikeston, Mo.

Fortunately for Cape, that didn't end its year because it was assured a zone berth as the host squad.

"We're really fired up after what happened at the district tournament," Cape's Dustin Crowden said. "I know we can compete with these teams. We just have to have our head right."

All five squads have at least 22 victories, topped by two-time defending state champion Festus and Dunklin County with 28 wins apiece.

The tournament kicks off today with three games. Cape (26-14) plays Creve Coeur (24-12) at 3 p.m., Dunklin County (28-9) faces Festus (28-3) at 6 p.m. and the opening-game winner takes on Manchester (22-11) at 9 p.m.

There will be three more games Friday, including the winners bracket final at 6 p.m.

Saturday's schedule features the losers bracket final at 5 p.m. and the championship at 8 p.m. An if-necessary title contest would be played at 2 p.m. Sunday.

"This is a really good zone tournament," said Pennington, whose squad has been third in the zone the past two years. "You look at those records ... it's just a bunch of good teams battling it out."

Four of the five teams are district champions.

Festus captured its fourth straight District 13 tournament title, Dunklin County won the District 14 tournament, Manchester claimed the District 10 regular-season title and Creve Coeur captured the District 10 tournament.

Festus returned only a handful of front-line players from last year's squad that won the zone title in Cape Girardeau, but the club is a perennial powerhouse under 20th-year coach Pat Bone.

Bone's team wasn't considered the state favorite last year after advancing to the American Legion World Series in 2009 but still repeated.

"They're always really scrappy, hard to beat," Pennington said. "You can never count them out."

Today's opening round is highlighted by the Festus vs. Dunklin County matchup that figures to feature touted pitchers Tyler Thompson of Dunklin County and Alex Winkelman of Festus.

Thompson, who already has a season under his belt as one of the top hurlers for juco World Series qualifier Jefferson College, enters zone play having thrown three consecutive shutouts.

Thompson is coming off a one-hit, 20-strikeout performance against Jackson in the District 14 tournament.

Winkelman is a left-hander who will be entering his senior season at Crystal City High School.

Festus and Dunklin County also met in a 2010 first-round contest.

Dunklin County, with Thompson on the mound, carried a 5-2 lead into the ninth inning but two errors helped Festus rally for four runs and a 6-5 victory.

"The zone is always just a war," Dunklin County coach Jamie Johnson told the Daily Dunklin Democrat. "It's got some of the best baseball teams in Southeast Missouri and up north toward St. Louis. Every game will be a battle no matter who we are playing because there will be five quality teams there."

Noteworthy

* Admission to the tournament is $5 per day. A tournament pass is available for $10.

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