Take it from the Metro East Bears. They are in prime position for this week’s Illinois American Senior Legion baseball tournament.
The 24-6 Bears, winners of seven consecutive games, are prepared to represent the south in the six-team state tourney that starts Wednesday in west Chicagoland. Metro East plays 20-5 Mattoon at 3:30 Wednesday.
“Things are going really well because the kids have begun to jell and they are playing together,” Bears general manager Dennis Sharp said. “They have bought into what we are doing and are really excited about playing at state.”
The Illinois tournament opens at noon Wednesday with 31-1-1 Elgin battling 33-6 Galesburg. It was Galesburg defeating Oneida to win the Third Division, which also included Jerseyville.
Wednesday’s final game, set for 7 p.m., pits 19-9 Northwest against host Wheaton, which is 17-11. Even though Wheaton is serving as the home team for the four-day state finals, all games are slated for Lee Pfund Stadium at Legion Field in nearby Carol Stream.
“It’ll be a real test at state because of the quality competition,” Sharp said. “But we have good pitching depth.”
Metro East is enjoying a banner season and intends to continue it through this weekend and next week’s Great Lakes Regional at Hopkins Field in Moore. It will be the biggest Legion event in Alton since the World Series came to town in 2000.
And since the Bears are playing host to the regional, they are included in the eight-team field. So is the Illinois champion. If the Bears snare the state title this weekend, the Illinois runner-up also comes to Alton.
“It’s going to be a great event,” Sharp said of the regional. “I’m really looking forward to it because it will showcase special athletes.”
Thus far this season, the Bears have accomplished plenty:
- They shared the District 22 regular-season title with Belleville and earned the No. 1 seed in the league playoffs;
- They won three games and went unbeaten through the District 22 playoffs in Alton;
- They won three games and went unbeaten through the Fifth Division tourney in Carmi.
So the Bears haven’t lost a postseason game. They are 6-0 in the playoffs.
“We are right where we want to be,” Sharp said.
Infielder-pitcher Jordan Hovey of the Bears earned the Most Valuable Player award for his Fifth Division heroics. Yet Metro East displayed an ample amount of standout performances in two victories over Teutopolis and one against Murphysboro. The Bears outscored their opponents, 28-12, including a 12-0 routing of T-Town in the seven-inning finale.
Aaron Jackson twirled a shutout and Chance Foss belted a grand slam to highlight the Bears’ championship game win. Jackson and Jake St. Peters are the mainstays of a solid pitching staff that could prove to be pivotal the rest of the way. Matthew Zielonko, Drake Hampton and Maverick McSparin have chipped in with some clutch hitting.
In addition, catcher Nick Paulda and infielder-pitcher Connor Melton also have played key roles in the Bears’ success, Sharp said.
“Both of them have been leaders for us,” he added.
If the Bears win their state debut, they will play the Elgin-Galesburg winner at 3:30 Thursday. A first-game loss sends them into noon game Thursday against the Northwest-Wheaton loser.
A 2-0 start would propel the Bears into a 3:30 game Friday. The championship contest is set for noon Saturday, though if needed, a second game would follow at 3:30.
SENIOR LEGION STATE TOURNAMENT
at Wheaton, Lee Pfund Stadium at Legion Field (Carol Stream)
Wednesday, July 29
Game 1: Elgin (31-1-1) vs. Galesburg (33-6), noon
Game 2: Mattoon (20-5) vs. Metro East (24-6), 3:30 p.m.
Game 3: Northwest (19-9) vs. Wheaton (17-11), 7 p.m.
Thursday, July 30
Game 4: Loser Game 2 vs. Loser Game 3, noon
Game 5: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 3:30 p.m.
Game 6: Loser Game 1 vs. Winner Game 3, 7 p.m.
Friday, July 31
Game 7: Winner Game 4 vs. Loser Game 5, noon
Game 8: Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 3:30 p.m.
Game 9 (if necessary): Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 6 (if first loss), 7 p.m.
Game 10 (if necessary): Winner Game 7 or 9 vs. Loser Game 8 (if first loss), 7 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 1
Game 11: Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 10, noon
Game 12: Winner Game 11 vs. Loser Game 11 (if first loss), 3:30 p.m.
(Winner to Great Lakes Regional, starting Aug. 5 in Alton)