It’s been a long time since an McPherson American Legion junior team went to the state tournament.

It’s been a long time since an McPherson American Legion junior team went to the state tournament.
In fact, it’s been about 11 years, when a team coached by Jim Black went to Manhattan for the Class A State Tournament at a then-year old Tointon Family Stadium at Kansas State University and came away with a third place finish after a 33-9 season.
For current Post 24 17U coach Tony Schmidt and his band, they feel they have an excellent chance of bettering that showing starting this afternoon at  1 p.m., as McPherson faces Andover Central in the opening game of the tournament.
“Physically, we’ve got kids that can bunt, that can hit, that can pitch,” Schmidt said. “The question is are we mentally prepared to play in a state tournament? That’s what we talked about our last practice. Everything else is secondary. I know kids can get distracted, but we told them everything else is secondary. The fun part is playing baseball. We told them to stay focused on that.”
If the last few weeks are any indication, staying focused shouldn’t be a problem for Post 24. They enter the state tournament today at the Sportsfield Complex in Leavenworth with a 22-6 record.
That includes a stretch of 17 wins in 18 games, with the only loss to a Newton senior legion squad that boasted a few college freshmen on the roster.
McPherson and Andover Central were slated to have met twice before this season, but June’s rainy weather nixed both games. That leaves Schmidt with a bit of a learning curve when it comes to the Jaguars, who defeated Winfield Friday 5-2 to claim their state tournament berth.
“They’ve always got a good team,” Schmidt said. “Last year, we saw them at zones. I do know that we beat the Salina Hawks and the Hawks beat Andover.”
A win over Andover will have McPherson playing in the winner’s bracket Thursday at 6 p.m. A loss bumps them down to the 10 a.m. game in the loser’s bracket of the double elimination tournament. They will face either the Salina Eagles or Dodge City regardless of what bracket they play in.
The other half of the tournament features Manhattan taking on Doniphan City at 6 p.m. this evening and Paola facing host Geiger Ready Mix at 8:30 p.m.
Paola is a team that Schmidt is anticipating seeing in the championship game, as the defending Class A champions rolled through their Zone with 16-1 and 12-0 wins over Garnett and a 5-4 win over Ottawa. According to the Panther’s GameChanger stats, they are 13-0 heading into the tournament this week.
Before Post 24 even can think about a championship game, they must first survive and advance against the Jaguars. One area that definitely is a plus in McPherson’s column is the depth of their pitching rotation.
Marcus McDaniel and Caleb Schmidt are the top two pitchers, but the elder Schmidt has a number of options to put on the mound in a pinch, including Thursday’s zone championship winner Micah McCulley and McPherson 15U transfer Jack Reifschneider, among others.
“We’ve got enough depth in pitching that arms haven’t been a problem,” Tony Schmidt said. “Last year, we had a few sore arms, but that hasn’t been the case this year.”
Another boon to Post 24 since the Bob Hooper Classic in June has been the presence of newly minted McPherson High School baseball coach Heath Gerstner. Gerstner has already been working with the players and gives Tony Schmidt another set of eyes in the dugout.
“He sees things that I don’t right away,” Schmidt said after the zone win over Hays Thursday. “In a sense, his strengths are my weaknesses and there’s some things that I like doing that we’re still going to do. He’s been great. He’s going to be a good fit with McPherson High School baseball.”
And there could be no better omen for the new Bullpup coach than to watch his soon-to-be-players win an American Legion state championship.

Contact Chris Swick by email at and follow him on Twitter @SwickSentinel.