They say everything averages out in baseball. But it is hard to find the average of Irwin-Easley Post #118's 13-3 win over McDonald County Post #392 in the loser's bracket final, and the 18-3 defeat they suffered at the hands of the Carthage Merchants in the American Legion District 15 championship game at Carl Junction on Monday.
After falling into the loser's bracket with a 13-10 loss to Carthage on Sunday, the Cassville team had three elimination games standing between them and the title. Though they cleared the first hurdle with a rule-shortened win, there would be no miracle sweep of Carthage.
Oh those Carthage Merchants. Some consider them the New York Yankees of District 15. They don't always beat you, but it just hurts more to lose to Carthage than any other team. Most District 15 fans have two favorite teams: their local legion post representative and whoever plays Carthage.
But to get to that championship matchup against the Merchants, Post #118 first had to put away a good McDonald County team. With few fresh arms available at the end of a tough tournament, Jeremy Marple played a hunch and sent Ben Makela out to face Post #392. Makela was a AA player most of the season, but showed enough promise to be added to the roster for the AAA tournament.
Makela responded with a complete game performance, leading his team to a 13-3 win. Dominant in the early going, Makela finally yielded all three Post #392 runs on one swing from Kaleb Schlessman in the top of the 6th inning.
Schlessman's home run ricocheted high off a light pole in left field as McDonald County finally utilized its half of the scoreboard. But Cassville already had seven runs to its credit, scoring two in the 1st, one in the 2nd, and four in the bottom of the 5th.
Post #118 batted around in the 6th inning, adding five more runs to increase the lead to 12-3. In the 7th inning, Trevor Tanner walked and scored the game-ending run on Ricky Vanderpool's RBI double.
Less than an hour later, Cassville returned to the field to face Carthage again.
Though Cassville had Carthage on the ropes in Sunday's games before losing in the final inning, this game was never in doubt. The Merchants scored five times in the top of the 1st, and Post #118 could only score once in answer in its half of the inning. Then the scoring floodgates opened, and the water ran Carthage blue.
Merchants pitcher Mark Ryan hurled a masterful game, leaving after six innings with his team holding an insurmountable 18-1 lead. Cassville scored a pair of meaningless runs in the bottom of the 7th, but Carthage won the game and the championship in dominating fashion.
For Jeremy Marple's team, it was a frustrating end to a great season of American Legion baseball. At the tournament, Cassville easily bounced every team it played but Carthage.
"It was a great summer," Marple said softly, clutching the second place district team plaque.
Both Marple and assistant Roger Brock will be walking away from coaching after this season, both citing the need to spend more time with their families. Coaching a highly-competitive team at this level demands time and commitment to a degree that precludes many traditional family activities. Few people realize the sacrifices that volunteer coaches like Marple and Brock make to give players an opportunity to improve their game and broaden their personal horizons as members of an American Legion team.
Men like these are not unique to Cassville, but they certainly make Cassville unique. While the American Legion program will continue without them, Jeremy Marple and Roger Brock have set the bar high for whoever succeeds them as coaches of the AAA club.