After a disappointing second-place finish at the Illinois Junior Legion State Baseball Tournament last season, the Belleville I Hilgards had their eyes on a bigger prize in 2013.
They reached the mountain top Tuesday by closing out the season on a 13-game winning streak, taking home the state title with a 10-0 victory over Moline.
"It's a pretty cool feeling, the kids were all asking if there's another round," Belleville manager Corey Muendlein said, noting the Junior Legion teams don't advance further than state. "When you're on a roll you don't want it to end, but being the last team in the state to win a meaningful game is pretty cool.
"I'm really proud of the guys. Through 44 games you need everybody to contribute and everybody did. They stayed focused and ready to go whenever we needed them."
Staying especially focused was the Post 58 Hilgards' pitching staff.
"Pitching really carried us through the entire playoffs," Muendlein said. "I don't think we ever used any relief pitching, we had 11 complete games in a row."
Belleville's starting rotation included Austin Keen (8-3, 1.80 ERA, seven complete games in 10 starts, 86 strikeouts in 65 innings), Ben Hankammer (4-0, 1.66 ERA), Matt Klosterman (9-2, eight complete games in 10 starts, 74 strikeouts in 63 innings) and Josh Davinroy (6-0, four complete games in seven starts).
Davinroy got the call Tuesday and responded with a three-hit shutout.
Playing in the state tournament at Laker Stadium in Paris, Belleville (37-6-1) rolled through the competition. It was Belleville's first Junior Legion state title after three previous second-place finishes (2012, 2007 and 1998).
The state tourney run began with a 6-1 victory over Macon County on Saturday, followed by a 13-3 shellacking of Altamont on Sunday.
After a 10-4 victory over Moline on Monday, the Hilgards watched Moline battle back through the loser's bracket before delivering a 10-0 message in the state title game.
Muendlein said three holdovers from the 2013 state qualifier team -- Bret Silvestri, Keen and Jake Fisher -- were integral parts of the championship.
"After what we went through last year and the heartbreak and disappointment..those three guys carried us," Muendlein said.
Klosterman was named District 22 Player of the Year and he continued his success at the plate and on the mound throughout the playoffs.
"He had one of the most impressive postseasons I've ever seen," Muendlein said of Klosterman, a junior at Belleville West who hit .418 with 59 hits, 43 runs, 38 RBIs and 19 stolen bases while also throwing three complete games in the playoffs.
Speedy leadoff man Sam Haudrich (Althoff) constantly ignited the offense, hitting .429 with 50 runs, 54 hits, 36 stolen bases and 12 RBIs.
"When he leads off it makes the inning because he's got terrific speed," Muendlein said.
Slugger John Dozier (Belleville West) added another big bat, hitting .355 with eight triples, three homers, 38 RBIs and 31 runs. Hankammer (Althoff) was another threat, hitting .356 with 37 hits and 29 RBIs.
Designated hitter Casey Arnold (Althoff) also had a big state tournament and hit .299 with seven doubles and 15 RBIs.
The Hilgards' usual starters were Haudrich in center, Klosterman in right field or pitching, Dozier in left, Hankammer at pitcher or first, Arnold at DH or right field, Dennis Jackson (Althoff) at second base, Silvestri (Althoff) at catcher, Trey Hopkins (Belleville West) at third and Fisher (Althoff) at short.
"We listed five goals at the start of the year and I thought they were all attainable if we stayed on track and stayed focus," Muendlein said. "If we played with heart and determination, I thought this team could do exactly what we did today."
As a Hilgards player, Muendlein reached the Senior Legion state tournament in 2006 but returned home quickly after two losses. This is the first state title for a coaching staff that includes Tyler Rybicki and McKendree University pitcher Sam Lidisky.
The Hilgards' pitchers were Austin Keen, Davinroy, Klosterman, Hankammer, Seth Bertelsman, Rorey Keen, Tai Kezerian and Spencer Picquard. Catchers were Silvestri and Andrew Konya and infielders were Arnold, Klosterman, Fisher, Hopkins and Jackson.
Outfielders included Haudrich, Dozier, Klosterman and Arnold.