A year ago, Eureka Post 177 was riding high heading into the Zone 4 Tournament.
Eureka swept through District 10, winning the regular season and postseason tournament titles.Post 177 went on to win the Zone 4 tourney and reach the state tournament where the squad finished second.
This year, Eureka has a chance to win another trip to Sedalia. Post 177 finished second in the postseason tournament to earn its berth in the double elimination Zone Tournament.
Post 177 will take a 19-19 record (9-5 in District 10 play) in its first game Thursday (July 24) against host Festus (17-10) at 4 p.m. in the five-team tournament.
Eureka associate head coach Cam Phillips said he was encouraged by Post 177’s play in the district tournament.
“I feel like we played better baseball offensively in the District 10 Tournament then we had in a while,” Phillips said. “Our lineup is starting to come together like we expected it to all year. We still have to get better in some areas, but we feel good about where we are at.”
Age limits hurt Eureka this summer’s squad. Post 177 returned just four starters from last year’s team.
So, it’s been a case of some growing pains this summer.
However, Phillips is pleased with what has happened.
“I think we have made progress, but it’s been gradual,” Phillips said. “We are a young team, we have a lot of new faces, and some times that takes a while to figure out what everyone’s role is.
“I think making it to the round of eight with only 11 guys in Mountain Home, Ark. tournament was a big step for us. It showed that we can compete with anyone even at less than full strength.”
This season as expected, Luke Schumacher, Nick Miller, and Bryce Carter have really carried the offense for Post 177. Schumacher is hitting .337 with a team-leading 19 RBIs and two homers. Miller is hitting .341 with 17 RBIs. Carter it hitting .354.
There are others who have made valuable contributions as well.
“Chad Jones and Mike Williams have been huge catalysts in the top half of our lineup, putting together good at-bats and working counts,” Phillips said. “Timmy Larrigan has really stood out over the last two weeks or so, getting on base and driving the baseball. Jesse Schuller brings that different element to our team with speed and the ability to put pressure on the defense. Schumacher leads our team in home runs and RBIs.”
Williams is hitting .385 with 18 RBIs. Jones is hitting .329 with 14 RBIs and a team-high 10 doubles. Larrigan is hitting. 288.
On the mound, Jarred Boyer and Brennen Lummus have performed well for Eureka. Boyer is
“Jarred and Brennen are the guys we lean on at the top of the rotation, but a guy like Avery Driggs has stepped up for us throughout the year,” Phillips said. “Michael Cheung has been our go-to reliever, and he seems to find his way out of big spots.”
Eureka is no stranger playing Festus, having played the tournament host twice this season. Post 177 scored a 4-2 win early in the season and recently dropped a 5-4 decision.
“We have immense respect for the way they play,” Phillips said. “(Coach) Zac Bone does a great job with his team year in and year out.”
Phillips declined to name a start for Thursday’s tilt.
“We don’t want to give too much away, but I think we have a good idea of who to start,” Phillips said. “The key thing for us is to play great defense behind our pitchers. Festus is a team that will put the pressure on your defense from an offensive standpoint.”
Phillips said he can see Post 177 winning the rubber match between the two teams if it plays well.
“I think we have to play our game; solid defense, limit the walks, and get the big hits in key spots,” Phillips said. “It takes an entire well-rounded game to beat a team like Festus, so it’s a tall task ahead of us, but one we fully believe we can accomplish.”
Phillips promised no big, impassioned speeches before the game to fire up the team.
“I don’t think we need to tell our guys anything,” Phillips said. “We’ll rely on our seniors who were there last year to help guide them through this. Luke Schumacher, Jarred Boyer, Brennen Lummus, Jesse Schuller, and Tim Larrigan can get these guys ready for all that we can expect.”
Who does Phillips see as a favorite to win the tournament and earn a berth in the state tournament in Sedalia?
“I’d like to say we are the favorite; that’s the way you have to think about it,” Phillips said. “We’re the defending zone champs and have a target on our back. But we’re not naive enough to not know how good the teams that will be there are this year.
“We’ve played Jackson and we’re 1-2 against them. (We’ve) split with Festus, and unfortunately are 0-4 against Ballwin this year. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I like to back the guys in my dugout.”
The state tournament runs from July 31 through Aug. 2.