COTTLEVILLE—Eagles West just wouldn’t be denied in the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association (SLABA) 18U championship game.
The No. 4 seed in the summer league’s end-of-the-season tournament, Eagles West won three straight games to reach Friday night’s championship at St. Charles Community College.
Some thought they might be due for a letdown against rival program the American National Eagles. But Eagles West proved they were a train that couldn’t be stopped, winning the SLABA League championship game, 6-4, over their rivals from .
“We got hot, and we played well throughout the whole tournament,” Eagles West head coach Mike Buda said. “The pitching was there. The defense was a little shaky at times, but today we played well. And it always helps when you jump out 5-0 in the first inning.”
Indeed it does. That’s exactly what Eagles West did to bust open the game. With two outs, they strung together two walks and two base hits to produce a 2-0 lead off of American National starter Brendan Fosdick, a senior.
But the key blow in the game, and really the whole season for Eagles West, was Brannon Callaway’s deep, three-run home run into the left-field bullpen that gave the Eagles a 5-0 edge.
“He’s a state champion, and he knows what it takes to step up in big moments,” Buda said of Callaway, a star pitcher for Class 4 state champ Francis Howell last spring. Calloway manned the third base position this summer when he wasn’t pitching.
The decision to use Callaway in the everyday lineup proved to be a stroke of genius for Buda this summer, helping the coach to his first league championship title in his first season as head coach.
“If we would’ve lost today, and had to play tomorrow, (Callaway) would’ve been our pitcher,” Buda said. “He’s a big-time player. And I’m so glad we had a champion like him on our team.”
As it turned out, the Eagles needed every one of those runs as American National refused to wilt despite the five-run deficit and the 100-degree heat.
“We’ve got resilient guys on this team,” American National head coach Bill Becher said. “I knew they weren’t going to give up. I knew we’d get back in it.”
And they did so in rather quick fashion, scoring four runs in three innings to get back into the game.
Oday Al-Yatim, a senior at Hazelwood West, drove in the first American National run with a double in the bottom of the first inning.
Then in the second, it was Lutheran North’s Brendan Buenger who smacked a bases-loaded single that scored another before St. Dominic’s Andrew Aubuchon drove in two in the third that made the game close again.
Unfortunately for American National, close was all they would get as American West starter Dustin Dalton and reliever Cale Laughlin, both seniors at Francis Howell North, combined to shut the door in the final four innings They allowed just one base runner over that span, retiring 15 of the final 16 batters that came to the plate for American National.
“Dustin pitched his heart out,” Buda said. “He’s diabetic and the heat kind of got to him. That’s why I took him out. And Cale just slammed the door. It was a great effort by both guys.”
Winning the SLABA League championship has earned American West a trip to the PONY League regionals, which will be held July 27 - 30 at the on Aubuchon Road.
The Eagles are the No. 1 seed in next weekend’s event, and will begin play next Thursdaywith a 3 p.m. game against the Jefferson County Barnstormers.
The other two teams in the event are a PONY League champion from Chicago and another one from Michigan.
The winner of that tournament will advance to the PONY League World Series in California in August.
American National will close out its summer season with a trip to Indianapolis this weekend for Pastime Tournament’s Mike Walsh Memorial Tournament hosted at Butler University.
“We’ve already won one tournament in Indiana,” Becher said. “So we’re going back to see if we can take home another one.”