BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Sometimes, the other team is just better. That was the case for the Kokomo American Legion Post 6 baseball team as it faced a very talented squad from Rockport in the 90th Annual Department of Indiana State Finals. In the state championship game, the Sixers fell to Post 254, the defending state champions, 13-3 at Kokomo Municipal Stadium. It marked the seventh time Post 6 has taken home the state runners-up trophy.
“They are good,” said Kokomo manager Don Andrews while sitting in the press box after the title bout. “They are just good top to bottom and in all parts of the game.”
Rockport earned its ninth state championship and will advance to the Great Lakes Regional in Edwardsville, Illinois, beginning on Aug. 3. Post 254, made up of players from South Spencer High School and the surrounding area, lost its first game of the season before getting its full team together. Since that loss, they have won 27 consecutive games. At the state finals, they dominated the field by outscoring its opposition 48-9 in five games – 33-3 in the last three.
“We have had some awfully good teams here at Rockport,” said head coach Jim Haaff, who is celebrating his 50th year with the program. “We have made it to three American Legion World Series in my time. It is yet to be seen what this group can do. But we are very solid.”
Kokomo starter Austin Weaver, who signed with the Kokomo Jackrabbits after the final game, did not get much help from his defense despite a slow start on the hill. He gave up a single to the leadoff hitter, hit the next batter and yielded another single – but a throwing error allowed one run to score and a sacrifice fly gave Rockport an early 2-0 lead on no earned runs. Post 254 scored two earned runs in the third and broke the game open in the fifth, scoring four unearned runs courtesy of three Sixer errors.
Meanwhile, Rockport starting pitcher Andrew Hayden had the Sixer bats handcuffed with a strong command of the plate and a pitch assortment that kept Kokomo hitters guessing. Austin Pyle recorded Kokomo’s first hit in the fifth inning, Perry McCullum recorded hit number two in the seventh, and S.A. Dunn rounded out the offensive attack with a third hit in the eighth – an RBI single that scored Jarrod Smith who reached on a fielder’s choice. Kokomo scored two runs in the ninth courtesy of a pair of errors.
Hayden threw 8 1/3 innings of three-hit baseball, giving up three runs, no earned runs and – in a surprising stat – he did not record a strikeout. Weaver threw five innings for Kokomo, giving up eight runs of which only two were earned. Spencer Bowlin threw three shutout innings in relief before he got tired in the final stanza.
Andrews, who has a pair of state runners-up finishes and three state finals appearances in his six years at the helm, said he will fondly recall this squad that finished with a 32-8 record and five tournament championships.
“I could talk about how much I love these kids all day,” said Andrews, who is now one game short of 150 victories and carries a .674 winning percentage. “Putting the right group of kids together pays dividends. We win ball games and we have fun.”
Andrews also said the state baseball directors were impressed with Municipal Stadium – it marked the first time Kokomo has hosted a state finals in 20 years. And despite the heat and humidity last weekend, Mother Nature cooperated with no rain. He also thanked all of the volunteers who helped make the tournament a success.
“This year we had a great group of parents; I didn’t have to do anything but coach the team,” said Andrews. “I did work behind the scenes beforehand, but we had plenty of volunteers. And some of the coaches want to have it in Kokomo year after year, although state rules stipulate otherwise (the state finals rotate between north and south locations).”
Andrews, who has five 20-win seasons, said the team will have one last get-together before he begins reloading for another season. After seeing this Rockport team win a pair of state titles, he knows what kind of talent he needs to find in the area to make another run at an elusive state championship.