Chanute Post 170 A will be hosting the 2021 Kansas American Legion Junior Zone 3 and 4 baseball tournaments this Sunday at Santa Fe Park.
Chanute, a No. 2 seed, will have a bye and won’t play in its first game until 5 pm. That contest will also feature the winner of Overbrook, the No. 3 seed, and Garnett, the No. 6 seed.
Games, in general, will start with Pittsburg (No. 4) versus Ottawa (No. 5) at 11 am, while Overbrook versus Garnett will begin at 1 pm.
Iola is the No. 1 seed and will face the winner of Ottawa and Pittsburg at 3 pm.
Loser bracket games will start Tuesday at 6 and 8 pm, and Zone championships will take place Thursday at 6 and 8 pm at Santa Fe Field. Because there are two Zones in this year’s tournament, there will be two state qualifiers.
Chanute head coach Jeremy Wheeler said he is happy about Zone starting on Sunday.
“I’m really excited and ready to watch our kids go against some really good teams,” Wheeler said. “I want to see how we can adjust and attack to make some momentum go our way.”
The local 17U group comes into zone with a 14-4 record and riding a six-game win streak.
Chanute boasts talent on many levels, as Cohwen Wheeler (pitcher and utility), Royce Chaney (first base and utility), Nathan Meisch (pitcher and utility), Braxton Harding (third base), Dax Axleson (second base, utility), Bryan Jackett (catcher), Ty Leedy (center fielder), Gage Hanna (extra hitter), Quentin Gregory (second baseman) and Parker Manly (pitcher and utility) are all capable hitters. Wheeler, Manly, Axleson, Meisch, and Leedy are all solid pitchers who can mix and match when needed.
Chanute used this bevy of talent earlier in the year to win six in a row before losing two to Pittsburg June 16. Then, Post 170 A won two straight before falling short to Iola on July 7.
Heading into zone, Ottawa is currently 11-18. The No. 5 seed has already played Overbrook and Iola, which, according to Ottawa head coach Bryce Elder, has been the toughest team by far.
The team hasn’t struggled with injury as much as absences and schedule conflicts for players.
But for zone, Elder will have his entire roster available.
This roster had led to their largest winning streak of four games, sweeping two doubleheaders against Garnett and Topeka.
Elder, a former baseball player at the University of the Ozarks, said he is ready for zone.
“Leading these guys into a competitive tournament has me very excited to play,” Elder said.
Winning the last five games of the season, Overbrook, a team that has baseball players from Santa Fe Trail High School, is 14-6.
While the No. 3 seed had some injuries early in the season, all those players are healthy and ready for action now.
Overbrook head coach Quinton Sleichter said he is eager to get things going.
“I’m really excited for zone to get started,” he said. “This is the first year for Overbrook Post 239 to field a team since around 2010, so it’s been a learning experience for myself and the other coaches, and our young team is playing really well at the right time.”
Pittsburg is 12-8, including two losses to Iola and six losses to 18U teams in showcase tournaments.
The No. 4 seed has played Iola three times, beating Iola twice.
Injury-wise, Pittsburg has one, which is impacting their top pitcher in Payton Gaines. Gaines has a back injury and is out for the season. But center fielder Payton Morrow just returned and is expected to contribute.
Others, meanwhile, are missing due to vacations.
“This is the first year that Post 64 has had a junior Legion team represented in the zone tournament, so we are really excited to be a part of the American Legion and even more excited to begin the program for the Pittsburg area,” Pittsburg head coach Doug Van Becelaere said. “It’s a great opportunity for young athletes in our area to be able to compete during the summer and possibly work to further their athletic careers beyond high school.”
The No. 1 seed’s current record is 20-5, including a stellar 20-2 against other junior legion teams. Iola’s losses include three games to all-star or showcase teams from Blue Springs, Kansas City and the Pittsburg-Joplin area.
Iola on the year has already gone 2-1 versus Pittsburg, and 1-1 against Overbrook.
Steadying the ship are Trevor Church and Holden Barker, both All-League and All-State this year as sophomores at Colony High School. Gavin Page and Trey Sommer are both All-League this year for Humboldt.
“I think the whole team is ready to play zone, obviously, with a desire to get to state,” Iola head coach Bob Johnson said. “Our zone is pretty loaded with the top five teams, which all five are very solid clubs, as we have played them all. It should be a very competitive zone tournament and will most likely come down to pitching and defense, much like all our games have with the teams in our zone during the regular season.”
Chanute beat Garnett 26-0 and 12-3 on July 9, which put Garnett’s record at 2-16 at the time.
Garnett as a team has a lot of young competitors, including players who have returned after a few years or are just coming back because of injury. Many players on the No. 6 seed are still learning the game.
Still, Parker McCarty, who pitched versus Chanute, has the ability to throw strikes.
“We’re young and inexperienced, and we’re slowly making the right strides,” Garnett coach Travis Persinger said. “Offensively, we just need a lot of swings and a lot of reps, and summer ball is tough to get all those. We’re struggling, but our biggest goal as coaches this year was to get the reps and get the experience. We knew we were going to have some rough times.”