Defending champ Pete's Blues is among the 14-team field
Jerry Wolsey expects another wide-open battle for the Kelso Klassic title.
"I'd say there's a lot of parity, just like there was last year and probably even more," said Wolsey, the media coordinator for the popular 14-team men's fastpitch softball tournament. "I think there are eight teams that can win the championship. It should be exciting."
The 28th annual Kelso Klassic, a staple of the community and its surrounding areas for nearly three decades, begins today on two fields at Kelso City Park.
There will be four games today -- two at 8 p.m. and two at 9:30 p.m. All three local squads will see action today.
Host Kelso Fastpitch plays Altamont Home Center from Altamont, Ill., at 8 p.m., Seyer's Kelso Kwik Stop faces the Central Illinois Knights from Nokomis, Ill., at 9:30 p.m., and Buchheit Trucking of Kelso takes on the Lee's Sports Falcons from Pinckneyville, Ill., at 9:30 p.m.
Action on Saturday begins at 8:30 a.m. and runs well into the night. The tournament concludes Sunday with games starting at 9 a.m. and culminating with the 3 p.m. championship. An if-necessary title contest would follow.
"It should be another excellent tournament," said Wolsey, a former Southeast Missouri State baseball player who competes for Kelso Fastpitch. "This has been and continues to be one of the top tournaments in the nation.
"When the tournament gets going [today], if the weather is nice, we'll probably have close to 1,000 people here. It's a big event for the community, an event people in this area mark on their calendar every year."
Pete's Blues from Mascoutah, Ill., broke through last year to win their first Kelso Klassic championship after being a top contender for many years. Pete's Blues went 5-1 and beat the Memphis (Tenn.) Firebirds 5-1 in the finals.
Pete's Blues returns with standout Jeramie Holman, voted the tournament's most valuable pitcher in 2011 and also in 2010 when he helped lead Aurora (Ill.) to the title.
Holman notched three wins and a save in last year's tournament. He allowed four runs and 17 hits in 25 2/3 innings. He struck out 47 batters and walked just one.
"Nobody could hardly hit him the last few years," Wolsey said.
The Firebirds have folded, but Wolsey expects several other squads to make a serious run at the crown.
The Topeka (Kan.) Toros, a favorite entering the 2011 tournament, finished third for the second consecutive year. Black Gold from Hermann, Mo., placed fourth. Both squads return.
Other top contenders, according to Wolsey, are the St. Louis Sparky Bullets, the Central Illinois Knights, the Belleville Stallions from Belleville, Ill., and two of the local entries.
Wolsey expects Kelso Fastpitch and Seyer's Kelso Kwik Stop to be in the mix. Both units feature a host of veteran players who have excelled in world-level competition.
Kelso Fastpitch is coming off winning the championship of a tournament in Pinckneyville, Ill., that also featured Pete's Blues.
"Those two Kelso teams should be contenders," Wolsey said. "It should be a great tournament with some tremendous games. There will be a lot of former all-world [tournament] players here. No team should run away with it. I don't expect a team to go undefeated."