Jr. Legion off to 4-2 start

Sporting a 4-2 record after one week of play, the Post 95 Junior American Legion baseball team is already having a better summer than it did a year ago – and the summer of 2008 has yet to officially begin.

The trick now is keeping it up.

‘Some of the kids were talking about already having more wins than last year,’ said Post 95 coach Luke Hohlt Tuesday after Vandalia’s 9-4 victory over visiting Centralia. ‘But we can’t stop here. We’ve just got to keep rolling.’

The Cardinals doubled last season’s win total by escaping a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the first with minimal damage and countering with major damage in its first two trips to the plate.

After a three-run rally in the bottom of the first put Vandalia up for good, homers by Ryan Thiele and Zach Marquess highlighted a four-run knockout blow in the second, as the Cardinals cruised to their third straight win.

The outcome might have been much different had Marquess – a hard-throwing Nokomis native who served as a reliever at the varsity level last spring – not bounced back from an inauspicious start on the mound.

Centralia’s first three batters reached base via a pair of walks and a hit by pitch. But Marquess bounced back by inducing a pop out and getting a strikeout.

A passed ball allowed Centralia to go up 1-0, but Thiele, Marquess’s battery mate, redeemed himself as well, picking off a runner at third to end the inning.

Vandalia quickly erased that early deficit in its half of the inning by capitalizing on a bases-loaded situation of its own, as an RBI groundout, a Dylan Cole RBI single and a bases-loaded walk by Kyle Hawkins staked Vandalia to a 3-1 lead.

The Cardinals then went to the long ball to blow the game open, as Thiele started a four-run rally in the second with a long two-run homer to left. One batter later, Marquess made Centralia pay for dropping an easy foul pop by launching a solo shot over the boards in left.

Thiele’s blast was part of a 3-for-4 day at the plate.

‘Ryan really had a rough day for us Saturday, and he knows that,’ Hohlt said. ‘He came in and did a little work in the cage, trying to get that swing back to where he’s waiting on the pitch. He really waited on that ball and drilled the baseball.’

In addition to helping himself out at the plate, Marquess went on to shut Centralia down over the next four innings before control issues helped Centralia tack on three late tallies.

Fortunately, it was too little, too late, as Marquess picked up the win by going six solid innings. Marquess allowed just three hits and struck out seven, helping him overcome nine free passes.

‘He’s doing a nice job for us,’ Hohlt said. ‘He throws hard and has a nice breaking ball, too. He did a very nice job tonight.’

Cole added two hits in three at-bats to Post 95’s 11-hit attack, as the Cardinals scored five or more runs for the sixth time in as many games this year.

Saturday’s Games

At the start of the day, the Cardinals were a bit surprised to find themselves playing at Salem after Friday’s night’s rainfall. That said, Hohlt was pleasantly surprised by how well his team played by the end of the day.

‘That sweep let us know we can play ball,’ said Hohlt after his team pulled out a pair of one-run games against the host team, 5-4 and 8-7.

‘We just got the job done on Saturday,’ Hohlt added. ‘We kinda didn’t think we’d be playing with the rain we got, but we went down there ready to compete.’

Levi Tackett and Hawkins led Post 95 in the opener with two RBIs apiece, while Colby Cooper and Luke Murfin added doubles.

Post 95 exploded for six first-inning runs in the second game and managed to hang on.

A three-run double by Dylan Adams proved to be the big blow. Cooper and Matt Hoffman also drove in runs, and Thiele finished 2-for-2 with a double.

Thursday’s Games

Post 95 took the first game of a doubleheader against South Central by manufacturing a three-run rally in the third and escaping a bases-loaded, no out jam in the sixth.

South Central enjoyed a 2-1 lead entering the bottom of the third before Troy Kimbro and Ryan Thiele got things going with back-to-back singles. An error on a pickoff throw then tied the game, and Vandalia took the lead for good on a double steal of second and home. Craig Freeman capped the inning with an RBI groundout, and Hawkins added an insurance tally with a bases-loaded walk in the fifth.

South Central chased Vandalia starter TK Kinkead by loading the bases with no outs in the sixth, and greeted reliever Colby Cooper with what appeared to be a line drive destined to clear the bases. But Adams made a nice running snag of the drive in center, and Cooper escaped the inning unscathed by recording a strikeout and getting a groundout.

South Central got revenge in the nightcap, however, salvaging a split with a 9-6 win.

Tyler Gillett went 2-for-3 with three RBIs in the opener for South Central, while Justin Armstrong was 2-for-3 with a stolen base.

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