After winning back-to-back junior high baseball state titles, the Valmeyer Pirates are hoping to create some postseason excitement at the varsity level as well.
The Pirates (16-16), who tied Dupo for their first Cahokia Conference-Kaskaskia Division title this spring with a 9-1 league record, have a legitimate shot to win the school’s first baseball regional championship since 1971.
They are the top seed at the Class 1A Marissa Regional and despite the .500 record, the Pirates have played an ambitious schedule that includes games against O’Fallon, Freeburg, Althoff, Waterloo. Valmeyer split a doubleheader with Althoff, a No. 1 seed at the Class 2A Dupo Regional.
“I think it started with basketball,” said Valmeyer coach Greg Reinhardt, who played at Sparta and McKendree University and is in his fourth season as coach of the Pirates. “Our kids went 16-14 and having a winning year in basketball helped. It took us a while to click, but once they started realizing what we’ve got helped make a difference.”
The Pirates have assembled a power-laden lineup that has produced 15 home runs and features five players with 20 or more RBIs.
“This is probably one of the best-hitting teams I’ve coached,” said Reinhardt, who spent eight seasons at Kewanee-Wethersfield before taking over at Valmeyer. “We’re real patient at the plate and we look for pitches we can drive. I think that’s been a big part of it.”
Sophomore pitcher-third baseman Easton Wallace makes an impact at the plate and on the mound. He’s hitting .441 with two homers and 33 RBIs and also is 5-0 as a pitcher with a 2.14 ERA.
Senior shortstop-pitcher Hunter Brewer recently signed with Lewis & Clark College. Brewer is 3-3 with a 1.89 ERA) and also is hitting .371 with 17 doubles, three homers and 24 RBIs,
Other big bats in the lineup include junior catcher Mark Nappier (.356, five homers, 30 RBIs), senior left fielder and cleanup hitter Zach Williams (.269, nine doubles, three homers, 20 RBIs, 17 stolen bases), freshmen Jake Krekel (.363, 20 RBIs) and Cole Juelfs (.279, 16 RBIs) and leadoff man Griffin Seidler (.350, one homer, 21 RBIs, 19 stolen bases).
The No. 2 seed in this regional is Valmeyer’s conference rival New Athens (14-13), which has several starters back from a team that reached the 1A state tournament in Peoria last season.
Valmeyer won both games against New Athens this season, 9-4 and 2-1.
Two key holdovers from New Athens’ state tourney run are Southwestern Illinois recruit Brandon Contratto (.409, two homers, 18 RBIs; 2-4, 3.00 ERA) and Ryan Reuss (.266, 23 RBIs; 2-0, 3.38 ERA).
The Yellow Jackets have won six of their last nine games
“Whoever gets out of this regional typically goes pretty far,” Reinhardt said. “If we field the ball, we could beat anybody I think.”
Class 1A Baseball Playoffs
Top Seeds: (1) Valmeyer (16-16), (2) New Athens (14-13), (3) Okawville (9-16), (4) Christ Our Rock Lutheran
Pick to win: Valmeyer
Could challenge: New Athens or Okawville
Analysis: Valmeyer won at least a share of its first Cahokia Conference-Kaskaskia Division title and boasts a powerful lineup that features five players with 20 or more RBIs led by Easton Wallace (.441, two homers, 33 RBIs) and Mark Nappier (.356, five homers, 30 RBIs). The Pirates also rely on Hunter Brewer (.371, three homers, 24 RBIs), Jake Krekel (.363, 20 RBIs) and Griffin Seidler (.350, one homer, 21 RBIs). Brewer (3-3, 1.89 ERA) and Wallace (5-0, 2.14 ERA) anchor the Valmeyer pitching staff. Southwestern Illinois recruit Brandon Contratto (.409, two homers, 18 RBIs; 2-4, 3.00 ERA) remains the top pitcher and hitter for New Athens, which reached the state tourney last season. Ryan Reuss (.292, 22 RBIs; 2-0, 3.38 ERA) is another impact player for New Athens while Okawville relies on Brad Fuhrhop (.405, 14 RBIs) and Alec Wisneski (.370, three homers, 23 RBIs).