What a difference a year makes! In the midst of the pandemic panic of 2020, high school baseball was shut down and parents and coaches scrambled to provide summer ball opportunities for athletes. It wasn’t pretty and wins and losses seemed secondary to having fun and getting to play.

The year 2021 will be remembered as the year summer baseball returned in our area with a bang. I was fortunate enough to have worked 71 baseball and softball games, starting in the Spring. The quality of play was some of the best I’ve ever seen in the summer and the athletes reveled in the chance to compete. The talent level in our region was very strong, with many of these athletes now going on to play at the collegiate level. The end of the season also brought much turnover in the coaching ranks. Here are my thoughts on the season and our local teams, in alphabetical order. Any stats and records used in this article will come from the Game Changer Apps.

Brycen Kingsland of Desoto SMCI was a Live Stream STL Player of the Game and won the coveted Gordon’s Cheesesteaks gift certificate!

Desoto SMCI – Desoto Legion finished with an overall record of 13-12, a decent record but not necessarily indicative of the talent on the roster. At times, the boys from SMCI dominated the opposition and looked like the best team in the District. Other times, their normally good defense betrayed them, and their offense seemed to slump as the season went on. For Head Coach Sean Wiley, the disappointment still lingers:

“I feel that our season could have ended a lot better, with a much deeper run in the playoffs. We had the right players and were deep enough on the pitching side to match up really well against every team in our district. Early in the summer, we got off to a good start and were doing the things we needed to be successful, especially in district play. We hit a wall offensively in mid-June and never really recovered. We tried many different lineup combinations and giving other guys opportunities that we may not have thought would get as much playing time as they did.”

In the District 13 Tournament, Desoto and Rock Memorial hooked up in one of the best Legion games I’ve ever been associated with. Desoto scored the lone tally in the game up until the bottom of the 7th, when Rock pushed a run across to tie and send the contest to extra innings. Desoto would plate two more in the top of the 9th, only to have Rock score two themselves in the bottom of the frame to tie the game once more. In the top of the 10th, Desoto scored again, only to have Rock tie it up again. Finally, in the bottom of the 11th inning, Rock Memorial was able to walk it off 5-4 on a base hit. It was one for the ages! Coach Wiley says the outcome stung: 

“Obviously, losing to Rock the way we did was a gut punch, especially after being in control the whole game and then coming back twice.”

Desoto SMCI loses five players to age requirements in Zach Keck, Brycen Kingsland, Grant Kite, Kaden Voyles, & Ethan Sampson.

A Desoto batter readies himself in the on-deck circle as a rainbow appears over Yanks Field in Ste Genevieve

After 5 years at the helm, Head Coach Sean Wiley has stepped down, as has his assistant Robbie Winckel. Coaches Lynn and King will be moving up to take over the senior program. The decision to step aside was bittersweet, but Coach Wiley knew it was the right time and has plenty of people to thank:

“I would first like to thank Robbie Winckel, who has been my right-hand man for the past couple of seasons. Our coaching relationship first started back in 2018 when he wanted to come up and help out late in the season. We knew pretty soon that we both shared a common vision for where things were headed and what we needed to do to get there. He’s been unwavering in his support and loyalty to our players, the program, and coaching. He can see things in a way that maybe I didn’t think of and always seems to have the right words to say at the right time. He is a great supporter for the players when they are down because of a bad game or bad play that they may be kicking themselves over. Robbie and I have become very close and great friends. I told him about my decision to step away back in the spring and his comments were, “You have my full support in whatever you decide to do and as long as you coach, I’ll be there with you.” Robbie’s son Jordan has been battling some health issues that have weighed heavily on both of us. It’s just the right time for both of us to step away. If I coach again, he’ll be there with me.”

“I’d also like to thank Jeff Russell for all of the support and the opportunity to allow me to take the program in a direction that had some really tough decisions involved. He has been outstanding, having an open mind and willing to allow myself and a few others do what we thought was necessary to get us back on the competitive map. It took us a little time to rebuild things, but the program is headed in a great direction with a very bright future.”

Coach Wiley ended by thanking some very special people for their support:

“I want to thank my family and my finance Haleigh. They have all been amazing with their support and traveling all over to watch the games and support the boys. Our season didn’t end the way we liked but in our last game against Ste Gen, my daughter Vivian was standing behind home yelling “Hi dad!”, and she continued to until I turned around to say Hi. I think sometimes we are focused on a task at hand, but our priorities change, and they are standing behind home plate yelling your name just to say hi. “ Viv will randomly say, “Dad I want to go to the ball game.” So Now she comes to some church league softball games to watch. I am going to take some time and focus on being a good dad and take care of my family. I’m still heavily involved with the program and will be around. You never know, maybe one day I’ll be back on the diamond coaching again.”

“On a side note, I want to Thank You and Ray (Live Stream STL) for all of your efforts to cover the games this summer. We enjoyed having you there and appreciate the coverage of the players. You guys do an outstanding job! See you guys soon!”

Festus #253 – The boys from 2-5-3 finished the year strong after some early season stumbles. After an early-season skid, Festus embarked on a long winning streak en route to a 21-8 overall record and 2nd place in the District #13 tournament. Co-Head Coach Drew Horrell encapsulated the season in this manner: 

“We were slow to start, with three (high school) teams in the area playing in the playoffs, we didn’t have the normal workout days to open our season. The losing streak was a real eye-opener for our guys. They came together and made some changes physically and mentally in their approach and we were able to rattle off 15 wins in a row. Overall, the coaching staff thought our team hit our stride entering the postseason, competed their best in the tournament, and just fell a little short.” 

Festus Post #253 Player of the Game Daylen Whitener loved his cheesesteak from Gordons! Also Pictured Jeff Whitener, Brian Garner, and Ray Halbrook from Live stream STL.

Festus fell to Ste. Genevieve Post #150 in the final two games of the District Tournament, marking the end of playing days and coaching careers for #253. Eight players on the roster will have expired their years and aged out of the program: Hunter Bassin, Grant Beck, Levi Ebersoldt, Cole Myers, Collin Reando, Dylan Schnitzler, Cole Wagner, and Daylen Whitener. This will leave plenty of big shoes to fill for Festus next summer. In addition to the players, Co-Head Coaches Zac Bone and Drew Horrell have stepped down from their positions. As Coach Horrell reflected on his time wearing the Festus uniform, he had a long list of people he wanted to thank:

“First and foremost, I’d like to thank Zac for choosing me to be his partner in taking over the program from his father. Zac was my catcher as a player, and to have the opportunity to work side by side with him over the last ten years, has been nothing but precious time. I am fortunate to have had him as a mentor and friend. We see things a lot alike; we can almost read each other’s minds from across the field. He’s put a lot of trust in me over in the third-base box; following Pat Bone in that spot is no easy thing to do, but he believed in me to do so.”

“We’ve been very fortunate to have coached some great players, they made us look really good for a long time. They believed in our program and our system. One group took us to the gold mine, the home of the Legion World Series. I’ll be forever grateful to have had that opportunity as a coach.”

“To guys like Aaron Mayer, Cody Stites, Eric Lawrence, Jim Smetzer, Riley Blair, Connor Eisenbeis, who I’ve had the opportunity to work with under Zac’s realm, we are forever grateful for your time as coaches and the dedication to the #253 program.” 

“Most importantly, thank you to my wife, Amy. She’s the one who really made this all possible. She’s traveled the Midwest with us and raised our two boys the last nine summers while I was between the lines doing what I absolutely love to do. I will certainly miss these days, but I look very forward to coaching my two boys, spending more time at home with my family, and being the husband and father that this program has helped make me become.”

Festus Post #253 & Jefferson College pitching Coach Aaron Mayer will take over the reins of the senior team next summer. Mayer is a #253 alum, whose stock has been rising on a national level for his work with the perennially ranked Vikings. In addition to his other duties, he recently served as an Assistant Coach for the Wilson Tobs of the Coastal Plain League, an NCAA-sanctioned collegiate summer baseball league.

Jefferson County Blazers – The Blazers play in the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association and draw players from many different schools through Jefferson County. Head Coach Aaron Kutelik’s team finished with a record of 23-18 and came within an eyelash of winning the championship game. Coach K described the season thusly:

“ I think our season was a definite success. We were growing and developing and getting better every day. We were definitely playing our best baseball down the stretch. We were 14-6 in July. That was a marked improvement compared to a 7-12 June.”

Seven seniors will be aging out of the Blazers program: Chase Blumer, Tyler Cochran, Johnny Daffron, Kearin Feagin, Aarjaav Goswami, Jaden Jones, and Zach Pottgen.

Aaron Kutilek has also stepped down from the head coaching ranks and has turned the senior team over to Ed Pottgen. Coach Kutilek will still be involved in the program, however:

“As I step away from the Blazers in the head coaching role, I won’t go far. I am going to continue as the Pitching Coach and general bench coach to assist Ed Pottgen. Ed asked me to stay, and I am glad to help out. I just cannot commit to the head coaching role as I am quite busy as Pitching Coach and Recruiting Coordinator with St Louis Community College. I love this program and the kids involved in it. I don’t plan to go far. It will always be near a dear to my heart.”

Rock Memorial Post #283 – Rock Memorial finished the summer at 19-12. For Head Coach Danny Sigman, the season was bittersweet:

“We showed well in 2 tournaments, winning one and placing in the top 4 in the other. The season was also disappointing, as this group was one of the most talented we had in a long time. I felt like we had the best team in the district but didn’t come through at the right time. Overall, I’m very proud of the season.”

As mentioned earlier, Rock Memorial and Desoto played in one of the best games you’ll ever see in the District Tournament. Coach Sigman said he was confident his team would pull out the victory:

“I told the boys that if we could make it to the bottom of the 11th, we would win the game. Sure enough, we got a runner to 3rd base and Nolan Estopare once again gave us a walk-off hit.”

Ethan Mollard was an important cog in the machine for Rock Memorial Post #283. Ethan’s pitching won him a gift certificate from Gordon’s Cheesesteaks!

Rock Memorial will lose the services of Estopare, Eric Streicher, Ethan Carroll, Ethan Mollard, Josh Herget, Trevor Quick, and Trent Harris as they age out of the program. Those seven players will be difficult for Rock to replace but the future looks bright for the team from Imperial.

With the departure of other coaches in the area, Sigman becomes the longest-tenured Head Coach in Jefferson County. He had a list of people he wanted to thank for a successful summer:

“I want to thank (Assistant) Wayne Ward for his help. A lot of this organization’s success and resurgence is due to his hard work as well. I would thank the Live Stream team for all that you guys do for us. Finally, I would like to thank my wife Jenni. She knows I love coaching, and she sacrifices our time together to let me be a part of this.”

Ste Genevieve Post #150 – When I previewed teams for an article earlier this summer, I stated that all roads to a District Championship must go through Ste. Genevieve Post #150. Not only because of the tournament’s location but because Head Coach Junie Basler and his staff always have a well-prepared, talented squad, ready to compete for the title. The players, comprised of Ste Genevieve & Valle Catholic High Schools, did not disappoint. In addition to winning the District Championship, Post #150 Came in 2nd place in the Zone #3 Tournament, eventually falling to Cape Post #63. After being unable to field a team last season in Ste. Genevieve County due to the pandemic, Coach Basler was very happy with the way this summer unfolded:

“Considering in April whether we were going to have enough (players) to even have a team, to 25-9, a district championship, and 1 game shy of a Zone Championship, needless to say, I was very pleased.”

The boys of Ste Genevieve Post #150 get ready to take the field for pregame drills.

Junie had some important folks to thank for his team’s success:

“I’d like to thank American Legion Post 150 for all of their support, parents, and players, spouses for letting the coaches do what they love to do, coaches Jason Blum, Ollie Siebert, Jared Richardson, I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. Ray (Live Stream STL) and yourself for the coverage along with Frank Kirchmer of Prepcast, and the best scorekeeper around Jennifer Bieser.”

Ste Gen’s Nate Selby got to travel to Crystal City and try a Gordon’s Cheesesteak after winning Player of the game

Ste Gen is also losing 7 players to the maximum age rule. Jayden Gegg, Drew Bauman, Keaton Boyer, Nathan Selby, Alex DeRousse, Chaytin Lea, and Hunter Lorance. While those young men played pivotal roles in the team’s success, I have no doubt that Junie and his staff will have his senior team restocked with talent and ready to roll next April. All roads to the District title will continue to lead through Ste Genevieve.

And with that, we close the books on the summer baseball season. It bears repeating that every team in Jefferson County (as well as our friends in Ste Genevieve County) finished with a winning record. That should tell you how strong baseball is in this part of the state. We are so grateful for the opportunity to cover these teams and form relationships with outstanding players, coaches, parents, and officials. We would also like to thank all of our summer sponsors who helped bring the games to your TV, laptop, tablet, or phone. Lastly, we would like to thank you, the reader and watcher of Live Stream STL, for allowing us to do what we love: Shine a light on local athletes.

As one chapter closes, we open yet another. Stay tuned as we will be releasing our Fall sports schedule very soon!

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