ST. LOUIS – The American National Eagles 16-under team looked out of breath and dead in the water, trailing 6-1 and heading into their final at-bat, in the biggest game of the season Tuesday night against the first-place Stallions Baseball Club.
The St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association (SLABA) team has been one of the best club baseball teams in the entire area this summer, but in the late-going game Tuesday, it looked as if the Stallions, which represents Wentzville and St. Peters overmatched American National.
But trying times are usually when great teams show their true championship colors. That’s exactly what American National did in the top of the seventh, rallying for six runs against the Stallions’ best pitcher, for an incredible 7-6 win at Lutheran North High School.
“That’s a great team we played tonight,” American National 16U head coach Ron Buenger said. “And we looked a little sluggish, and a little tired. But this team has been relentless all year. And we were able to come back against a very good team.”
What’s even more remarkable is the Stallions could’ve clinched the SLABA 16 League regular season championship with the victory. So they had everything in the world for which to play.
Instead though, American National pulled to within a game of first place, and now with a seemingly easier schedule throughout the final week of the regular season, might find themselves in position to claim the regular season conference title.
“We’re still a game behind, but there’s still some games left,” Ron Buenger said. “I just told the guys that I know they’re tired, but we’ve got to play up to that level all the time if you want to be champions in this league.”
In the fifth and sixth innings, it looked like the Stallions were ready to show who the real champions of the league were going to be.
After managing just two hits and only one solidly hit ball throughout the first four innings, the Stallions delivered two smash basehits and drew two walks that led to three runs. The Stallions took a 4-1 lead over the Eagles at that point.
In the sixth inning, three walks and an error led to two more runs for the Stallions. It also gave pitcher , who had held American National to just six hits to that point, what seemed an insurmountable lead.
Although Rothermich, who is an effective hurler for the Stallions but usually starts at catcher, was beginning to wear down after passing the 100-pitch mark.
That’s when Stallions coach Mike Rothermich went to ace starter Emmett Wilmes to close out the seventh, and hopefully clinch another league championship for his team.
“I figured we were good with Emmett coming in,” Rothermich said. “He’s been our best guy this summer. Sometimes crazy things happen though, and we just didn’t get it done.”
A couple of close calls that didn’t go Wilmes’ way early in the seventh, seemed to rattle him for the rest of the inning.
Pinch-hitter Seve McCoy reached on a bang-bang play at first that was ruled an error on the Stallions.
Another pinch-hitter Mike Judson delivered a bloop hit that got McCoy to third, before he scored on a ball-four wild pitch to Matt Tiefenbrunn to get American National’s first run of the inning across the plate.
Steve Kinnison and Conner Buenger drove in runs for American National with basehits, as did another Wilmes wild pitch, and Hazelwood West junior Jordan Yakel's sacrifice fly. Suddenly the game was tied.
Buenger was still at third with one out, when reserve infielder Kyle Porter lifted a flyball to right that was just deep enough for Buenger to score, and give American National its first lead of the ballgame.
Buenger then pitched a brilliant bottom of the seventh, which concluded with second baseman Porter's sparkling double play that included shortstop Ted Molinari and first baseman Yakel. The play set off a jubilant celebration in front of the American National dugout.
“Everybody had a hand in this win,” Ron Buenger said. “It’s like we tell the kids, if you keep doing the right thing at the right time, good things will happen, and everybody will get to be a hero. That’s what happened tonight.”
Next week, the American National 16s will play at doubleheader on Monday against the Jefferson County Barnstormers at Hillsboro High.
Then on Tuesday, the Eagles will play the Jefferson County Blazers, in a single-game at Fox High, before closing out the regular season with a matchup against the St. Louis Tigers at Jack Buck Field in University City.
The SLABA League Championship Tournament is scheduled after that, July 16-20, with the season-ending awards All-Star Game and awards banquet set for for the end of the month.