Edwardsville back in the Legion playoffs spotlight again

News-DemocratAugust 7, 2013 

A memorable Las Vegas summer night back in 1998 saw Edwardsville Post 199 win the American Legion baseball national championship.

Edwardsville's uniforms are still blue and gold and manager Ken Schaake is still filling out the lineup cards, just as he did during the magical summer run 15 years ago.

Hit the fast-forward button and Schaake has another state championship team with a chance to make additional noise on the national level.

Edwardsville (33-6) takes on Wisconsin state champ Ash Port (30-6) at noon Thursday in a first-round game Thursday at the Great Lakes Regional in Terre Haute, Ind.

"There's a different physical makeup than the 1998 team, but a lot of similarities in that they truly play as a team," Schaake said. "They don't get down on somebody if they make a mistake and they are there to make their teammates better. That's almost exactly like the 1998 team."

Edwardsville finished the '98 season with a 41-7 record and defeated Cherryville (N.C.) 9-4 in the championship game. The national title followed up Edwardsville's 40-0 Class AA state high school championship earlier that year.

Schaake said that kind of tradition creates strong motivation, even 15 years later.

"They really want to prove that they're as good as anybody that's come out of Edwardsville," Schaake said of a club that includes at least four and possibly five Division I players. "That's an internal drive that they have and they want to prove to people that they can compete at any level they go to."

Even the thought of playing in another Great Lakes Regional brings back positive memories for Schaake.

"In the championship game of the regional that year they batted around twice in the first inning," Schaake said. "It was amazing to see, we batted for close to 40 minutes and scored 11 runs in the first inning."

O'Fallon High School pitching coach Nick Seibert was a pitcher and outfielder on the 1998 national championship club. Twins Ben Hutton and James Hutton combined to pitch the championship game -- broadcast on a tape-dely basis by ESPN --while Chad Opel and Dave Crouthers hung line drives in stadiums throughout the country that summer.

Opel hit over .600 in the playoffs to earn National Player of the Year honors and current Alton High coach Todd Haug was the catcher.

"(Opel) was the kind of player that could go on a tear like that," Seibert said. "He usually was not that streaky, but he could get on those hot streaks and Dave Crouthers was the same kind of player. A lot of it was the continuation of riding that high from the state championship in high school."

Edwardsville's strength in the postseason has been a starting pitching staff with numbers that border on the unbelievable.

The staff of Jevon Boyd (Kaskaskia College; 8-1, 0.66 ERA), Cole Hagen (Missouri State recruit; 4-1, 1.44 ERA), Zack Sparks (Southwestern Illinois College recruit; 8-2, 1.62 ERA) and Devin Breihan (Lindenwood; 2-0, two saves) have combined for an 11-0 record and 1.04 ERA in the playoffs.

Matt Boivin (5-1, 2.19 ERA) adds another quality arm.

"It's just amazing that they refuse to give in and they challenge everybody," Schaake said.

The Edwardsville offense has provided more than enough run support in the playoffs.

Leading the way have been St. Louis University recruit Drew Curtis (.406, 16 doubles, 32 RBIs), Boyd (.346, four homers, 28 RBIs), Breihan (.324, one homer, 30 RBIs), Western Illinois University recruit Jordan Heckler (.314, one homer, 17 RBIs) and Missouri State recruit Blake Graham (.308, 11 RBIs).

Catcher Alec Pizzini has provided numerous key hits, as has shortstop Chase McPeak, third baseman Matt Huelsmann and outfielder Danny Robertson.

Schaake has been coaching Legion ball for 35 years and replaced his father -- current assistant coach Don Schaake -- as Edwardsville's manager in 1981.

Nephew Jake Schaake is also on the coaching staff along with pitching coach Tim Stunkel.

What keeps bringing Ken Schaake, a risk manager at RP Lumber, back to the heat, humidity and dusty ball diamonds each summer?

"Every group is different and whether they win or lose, to see the team develop over the summer is great," he said. "We try to teach them that not everything is fair, you have to work for what you get. I've got a pretty stressful job and going out there in the evenings is relaxing and I really do enjoy it.

"Being around kids that are 17 and 18 years old makes me feel young, too."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or on Twitter @NormSanders

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