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Cape Girardeau, Jackson American Legion teams eager for shot at zone title
The Ford & Sons Cape Girardeau Post 63 Senior American Legion baseball team is hosting the Zone 4 tournament for the third year in a row.
This time the five-team double-elimination event that begins today at Capaha Field features an especially strong local flavor.
Jackson Post 158 joins Cape for the zone event that sends the winner to next week's American Legion state tournament in Sedalia, Mo.
"I think it's great that we've got two teams from the area in the tournament," Cape coach Steve Williams said. "It's great for American Legion baseball in Southeast Missouri."
The tournament kicks off today with three games. Cape (17-29) plays defending champion Festus (28-5) at 3 p.m., Jackson (36-15) faces Creve Coeur (31-12) at 6 p.m. and the opening-game winner takes on Ballwin (17-16) at 9 p.m.
There will be three more games Friday at the same times, 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.
"It should be a great tournament with a lot of talent," Williams said. "The teams are solid."
While Cape knew it would be in the tournament before the season started because it is the host, Jackson had to earn a zone berth.
Post 158 came through in a big way. It rolled through last week's District 14 tournament that it hosted without a loss.
Jackson, whose program only has been in existence since the late 1990s, captured just its second district title and first since 2005.
"It feels good," Jackson's Chase Simmons said. "We've had a good year, and now we're looking forward to the zone."
Added Jackson's Cody Harris: "I love tournament time. We're all excited."
Jackson coach Mark Lewis believes Post 158 will match up well with the other zone squads, but he knows everything begins on the mound.
"I feel good about our lineup," Lewis said. "The momentum is always with your starting pitching. We have to pitch well."
Jackson has been solid throughout the season.
That's not the case for Cape, which will be looking to regain the form that saw it win 12 of its first 18 games before hitting a skid.
Post 63 has lost 23 of its past 28 games, although Cape does own two victories in its last three games and reached the championship round of last week's district tournament.
"I thought we showed some good things at the district, and hopefully we can carry that over into the zone," Williams said. "If we continue to play like that, we'll have a chance to win every game."
Jackson and Cape face challenges this week because the zone field appears loaded.
Festus won its fifth straight District 13 tournament title, Creve Coeur captured regular-season and tournament crowns in the competitive District 10 that covers most of St. Louis County and Ballwin was the District 10 tournament runner-up.
"There are going to be some very good teams. There always are," Lewis said. "It's going to be highly competitive, intense."
Festus likely ranks as the zone favorite, thanks to a talented roster that features Southeast Missouri State signee Alex Winkelman.
Winkelman, a Crystal City High School graduate, is a left-hander who ranked among the state's top prep pitchers the past few years.
"They've got a tremendous program. They're always very tough to beat," said Williams, whose squad will get the first crack at knocking off Festus in today's tournament opener.
Festus became the first American Legion baseball team since World War II to win three consecutive Missouri state titles last year. The team advanced to the American Legion World Series in 2009.
The 2010 and 2011 state championships for Post 253 came immediately after it captured Zone 4 tournament titles in Cape Girardeau. Festus is the four-time defending zone champion.
"This place [Capaha Field] has been good to us," said Festus coach Zac Bone, who replaced his father, Pat, after the elder Bone spent the previous 20 seasons leading Festus' Legion program.
Admission to the tournament is $5 per day. A tournament pass, which covers admission to every game, is available for $10.