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American Legion Baseball: Eden Post 880 falls one game short of first district title

Brian Barry delivers a pitch in Eden Post 880’s Game 1 win in the District 8 championship series against Jurek. The series went three games as Jurek pulled out its third district title in five years. (Photo courtesy of David Eckhardt)
Rolling through its best season in the history of the baseball organization, Eden Post 880 was one win away from a first American Legion District 8 title when it ran short of arms in the final two games of the championship series.

The result was giving up 17 runs to a hot-hitting Jurek Post 1672 in each of the final two games, surrendering any chance to recreate some of that comeback magic Eden had enjoyed for most of the season.

Jurek scored four runs in each of the second, fourth and ninth innings for a 17-9 win in the third and deciding game of the best-of-three series on Tuesday (July 24) at Veteran’s Park in Tonawanda. Jurek advances to the 19-and-under State Tournament.

After outlasting Jurek 7-5 in the Game 1 opener Sunday (July 22) at the Northtowns Center in Amherst, Eden went through five different pitchers in the final two contests of a series that featured three games in as many days. Eden was forced to use three of its pitchers twice in the series.

Post 1672 finished off a 17-6 win in Game 2 Tuesday before the start of the series finale after having the three-hour game suspended the night before with one out in the top of the ninth due to darkness.

“This is the tough part; it’s hard to say goodbye,” said Eden head coach Gordy Karstedt after he exchanged hugs and handshakes with players, coaches and their families. Eden finished the Post’s best season at 21-3 as first-time district finalists and Western New York South Division champions. “We did run out of arms. Anytime you get into tournament play, there’s a good chance you’ll run out of arms.”

Brian Barry went seven innings and Mitch Williams finished the final two in Post 880’s series opening win. When 8-1 Williams suffered his first loss of the season, having his start ended early in Game 2, the bullpen began to get a workout, which continued into the third game when starter Todd Gardner was unable to escape the fifth inning.

Eden lost one of its top starters late in the regular season when Ben Senior had to be shut down due to a tingling feeling and swelling in his pitching hand early in a start. Senior was eager to return but Karstedt said it was in the Fredonia College freshman’s best interest not to pitch again during the summer season.

“We consider Ben, Brian and Mitch all as No. 1 pitchers for us,” Karstedt said. “It was tough not having him.”

Jurek forced Eden pitchers into difficult situations with patient at bats and contributions up and down the lineup. Post 1672 blasted out 17 hits and drew 10 walks and three hit batmen. Eight different players recorded hits and eight notched at least one RBI.

“Our hitters really came around,” said Jurek head coach Kevin Craig, whose team earns a spot in the State Tournament for a third time in the last five years. The tournament starts Aug. 2 in Utica. “We preached patience and shrinking your strike zone early and waiting for a good pitch. Their guys were a little wild. I figured if we could keep getting to their next pitcher we’d be in good shape.”

Jurek’s offensive attack was led by leadoff hitter and center fielder Tom Styn, who finished 5 for 6 with three runs scored and three RBI. Zach Zabel finished with three hits, two stolen bases and a pair of runs, while PJ Mistretta added two hits and three RBI. Recording two-RBI hits for Jurek were T.J. Serba and Peter Elliot.

Jurek starting hurler Nico Penberthy gutted out seven-plus innings to earn the win. He got out of a bases loaded jam unscathed in the seventh to keep his team up 13-8, then got some help in the eighth from reliever Adam Panfil to keep Eden to only one run in the eighth.

“We had two straight innings with the bases loaded and only scored once; that hurts,” Karstedt noted. “If we get a key hit, it changes things.”

Eden, which led 3-1 after one inning and 6-5 after two, received two towering home runs over the 365-foot sign in center field from Barry, who finished with a double, two runs and three RBI. Mac Zeis finished 4 for 5, reaching base five times, doubling once, knocking in one run and scoring once. Gardner and Vinnie Sherman each added two hits and one RBI apiece and Ryan Boutelle of Gowanda notched a double for Eden.

Despite the season-ending loss, Karstedt said he was proud of the growth and maturity he saw in a team that combined high school and college players from the Eden, North Collins, Lake Shore, Frontier, Springville and Gowanda school districts. He said he was honored to be in the dugout alongside assistant Bob Burnside, who coached him and both of his sons at Eden. Karstedt also noted that Post 880 was second to none in its support.

In Game 2, Post 1672 built its big lead in a game played through high wind gusts and blowing dirt from the infield and batter’s box thanks to a four-run first and after plating one in the second, a five-run third. Down 10-0, Eden got on the scoreboard for the first time in the bottom of the fourth with two, then added single runs in the fifth and seventh and two more in the sixth.

However, after Drew Scharra of Springville came in to the game to pitch and settled things down for Post 880 with two scoreless innings, Jurek got back to its torrid offensive ways with a three-run sixth and two more runs in the seventh.

As part of a 15-hit attack for Jurek, Serba recorded four hits, including a double, and four RBI, each coming in four different innings. Elliot added three hits, including a double, and three RBI, and second baseman Zach Thomas also had three hits with a double and two RBI. Styn contributed a double and triple and scored twice.

Equally as impressive was the pitching of Pete Moran. While Jurek has a base in the Williamsville East and North, Sweet Home and Clarence school districts, it was able to attain the Christian Central product, who came through big with the team’s season on the line.

He threw seven strong innings, scattering eight hits and striking out four, and just as important saving Jurek’s bullpen during difficult stretch of games. Eden was forced to use four pitchers in the game.

Post 880 was led by two hits from shortstop Vinnie Sherman and RBI doubles from Christ Conley and Brad Palmerton. Adding a RBI each were Dan Karstedt and Kyle Sherman.

Although Craig was happy with the way his team bounced back and the performance of his Game 2 starting pitcher, he said he was disappointed in his team’s poor eighth inning the day before.

In the top of the eighth, Eden used four walks to their advantage as Barry delivered the big blow that inning with a two-run single. He finished with three hits, along with earning the win on the mound after the left-hander threw seven strong innings, striking out seven. He started the bottom of the eighth before giving way to Williams, who earned the save.

Adding two hits for Post 880 in the win were Gardner and Boutelle. Eden was up by four runs until the bottom of the fifth, and then Jurek scored five times over the next three innings. Karstedt noted that it was yet another comeback win for a team that has had a knack for that this season.

Eden, the top seed from Western New York’s South Division, had advanced to the district final with a 10-0 victory over Tonawanda. Coming into the double elimination tournament as the top seed from the North, Jurek defeated West Seneca to advance. Both teams went unbeaten in the playoffs until they split the series’ first two games.

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