Retif Oil Beats the Heat and Their Rivals to Win the American Legion’s City Series
Oilers Expect to Work Hard to Secure a Third Consecutive American Legion State Championship
Jesuit-based Retif Oil, the defending state champion of American Legion baseball, earned one of the eight spots in this summer’s upcoming tournament after winning the Legion’s City Series on Sunday, July 3.
The Oilers, along with rivals Peake BMW (Brother Martin) and Ponstein’s (Holy Cross), fought off equator-like heat while battling each other in the double elimination equivalent of a district tournament. All of the action took place at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium July 1-3. Peake didn’t have to worry about the heat on Saturday or Sunday because the boys from Elysian Fields were eliminated on Friday after losing both of their games, first to Ponstein’s, 11-5, and then to Retif, 5-1.
Retif (5) vs Peake BMW (1) – Friday, July 1
Against Peake in the feature game Friday evening, southpaw Davis Martin showed all of his stuff: fast ball, change-up, curve, and slider. He pitched eight innings, giving up one run on four hits while striking out 11 Peake batters. The win improved his record to 3-0 and his ERA went from 0.33 to 0.19. Martin has pitched 36 innings so far this season, the most among the staff of seven. Collin Miller pitched the final inning in relief, striking out one Peake batter, and earning his third save of the season. Outfielder Mack Miller led the offense, going three for four, including two doubles that netted two RBIs. Second baseman Hunt Conroy had two hits, including a double that drove in a run.
“I was very pleased with Davis’s performance,” said Coach Joey Latino after the win. “I thought Davis was very good. He had 11 strikeouts in the eight innings that he pitched, he had good command, and his defense played well behind him. Offensively, we had a few timely hits and got some runs late that separated us. Hunt had two hits including the flare to left field that scored one run.”
Retif (5) vs Ponstein’s (10) – Game 1 Doubleheader; Saturday, July 2
Coach Latino and the Oilers had already forgotten about Peake. The City Series championship was up for grabs between them and Ponstein’s. The two teams met Saturday, a sunny day of stifling heat and no breeze, to play a doubleheader.
Coach Latino tapped Collin Kulivan, a right-hander with a 3-0 record, to start on the mound. Kulivan, with an ERA of 1.11, was a good choice and a logical one because he pitched a complete game shutout against Ponstein’s back on June 16, allowing only two hits, walking five, and striking out 11 batters. He also pitched four hitless innings in the June 22 game against the Plum Street SnoBalls (John Curtis Patriots). Kulivan walked four and struck out three batters in that game, which Retif won, 4-1.
The Oilers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but Ponstein’s got to Kulivan early in the top of the third inning, scoring two runs. Kulivan struck out two batters and surrendered only one hit, but was done in by four walks and two batters whom he plunked. Coach Latino decided to go to his bullpen earlier than planned and summoned Christian Hess to relieve Kulivan.
Hess, a right-hander with a 4-0 record, pitched the rest of the game, all 6.2 innings. When it was over, Retif had lost, 10-5, the Oilers’ first defeat after 10 consecutive wins. Retif mustered six team hits, including a single and a double by outfielder Bryce Musso, a double by infielder Marc Theberge, and singles from Hunt Conroy, Andrew Cashman, and Nick Ray, who is being used as the designated hitter since a shoulder injury prevents him from throwing but not wielding a big stick. Twelve Oilers struck out and eight runners were left stranded.
When Hess entered the game, his ERA in 22 innings of pitching was 0.64. After Hess came off the mound in the top of the ninth, his ERA had ballooned to 2.44. Giving up eight runs on 11 hits will rattle a pitcher’s stats. Hess walked three and struck out two batters.
Forget the stats, because what Hess did in those 6.2 innings made him a hero to Coach Joey Latino.
“That’s what happens when it gets away from you,” said Coach Latino of the team’s 10-5 loss.” It was 3-1 in the sixth, they scored three more, and three more after that. Christian really gave us a great effort today and people who don’t understand baseball don’t understand that. He got out there and gutted his way through six and two-thirds innings, kept a few arms that we had available for game two fresh, and he kept battling and kept eating up innings. That’s a big part of why we won the second game because we still had Chris Beebe to throw, we still had Andrew Cashman to throw, and we had Collin Miller warming up at the end. Those three arms were available because of what Christian did in game one. Christian’s my silent hero of the day and people who don’t understand baseball don’t understand that, but he gave us a great effort.”
The Oilers had to put that first loss out of sight, out of mind, and focus on the second game of the doubleheader.
Retif (7) vs Ponstein’s (5) – Game 2 Doubleheader; Saturday, July 2
Coach Latino went with Chris Beebe, a right-hander who threw the first six innings, giving up five runs on five hits, walking one, plunking two, and striking out five batters. He was relieved the final three innings by Andrew Cashman, who has been filling in at shortstop for Nick Ray. Cashman yielded no runs and gave up only one hit and one walk. He struck out two and he also plunked two batters.
Once again, Retif mustered six team hits, including two singles by outfielder Mack Miller that drove in a pair of runs. Catcher Parker Serio also had two singles and an RBI. First baseman Marshall Lee doubled in a run. Scoreless after three innings, the Oilers tallied four runs in the fourth, one in the fifth, and two more in the sixth to build a 7-0 cushion.
Beebe had a no-hitter going until the bottom of the sixth until Ponstein’s notched two runs on two singles. In the seventh, Ponstein’s plated three more runs to make it a 7-5 game. Too close for comfort. Coach Latino made the pitching change. Beebe came out with a 2.80 ERA, compared to 1.84 going in. He also got the win to improve his record to 2-1; Cashman earned a save, his second of the season. A 7-5 win by the Oilers split the doubleheader and that meant the two teams would return to Kirsch-Rooney Sunday afternoon for a third and decisive game to determine the championship.
What effect did the heat have on the players?
“It’s something you can’t practice,” said Coach Latino. “We’ve never played 18 innings in triple digit heat all summer, so it’s just something you have to grind out. This is where your conditioning and preparation come into play. You just have to gut it out. I thought we hit the brick wall there in the seventh inning of that second game, but we found a way to hang on.”
Retif (4) vs Ponstein’s (1) – City Series Championship Game; Sunday, July 3
A toss of the coin decided that Retif would be the home team for Sunday’s championship game. The Oilers went with right-hander Collin Miller, who pitched 21.1 innings in six previous games for a 3-1 record (plus two saves). His ERA was 0.33. In the six innings he pitched, Ponstein’s had one run on four hits. Miller walked four batters and struck out seven.
The game was scoreless the first two and a half innings. With Retif batting in the bottom of the third, outfielder Mike Torry (who also played second base later in the game), hit a leadoff single, followed by a single off the bat of right fielder Tripp Ledet. Bryce Musso walked to load the bases with no outs. After Hunt Conroy popped up in the infield for the first out, designated hitter Nick Ray came to the plate. With one swing, Ray laced a double to the left-center gap and cleared the bases for a trio of RBIs. Retif’s 3-0 lead was challenged in the fifth when Ponstein’s scored their only run of the game.
In the sixth inning, catcher Alex Watermeier kissed the second pitch goodbye, sending it way over the right-center field fence for a solo home run, his first of the Legion season. Watermeier’s home run gave the Oilers a 4-1 lead. And he hit it just in time. After Retif’s third out in the sixth, lightning from a wall of thunderstorms coming in from the west halted the game for a little more than 30 minutes. The two teams pulled the tarps over the mound and home plate area, but somehow the rain skidded a bit north and missed Kirsch-Rooney entirely. Steady breezes pushed open the flags flying beyond the center field fence. Clouds that hovered above were thick enough to block some of the sun and this helped lower the temperature and the heat index a few degrees.
When the game resumed, Coach Latino plucked shortstop Andrew Cashman and put him on the mound. Cashman, who had a save in Retif’s 7-5 win the day before, pitched the last three innings to earn his third save. Before the City Series, Cashman owned a 2-0 record, having pitched a total of 15 innings in four games. His ERA coming in was 0.47; after pitching six innings in two games, Cashman’s ERA was 0.33. Not bad for a rookie Legion player.
Meanwhile, Coach Latino made some other moves necessitated by the absence of two key players: outfielder Stephen Sepcich and second baseman Marc Theberge. (Sepcich missed the entire City Series while Theberge was absent for Sunday’s championship game.) Parker Serio took up third base. Hunt Conroy moved over from third to shortstop. Mike Torry went from the dugout to cover second base.
The final innings flew by in 30 minutes. When Ponstein’s was down to their last three outs, the leadoff batter made it to first base on an infield error, the only one for Retif in this game. The next batter hit a sharp line drive that Hunt Conroy caught. The runner on first was halfway to second before turning around. Conroy quickly unloaded and threw to Marshall Lee at first base for the double play. A ground ball fielded by Mike Torry at second base was curtains for Ponstein’s.
The Oilers played Ponstein’s five times so far this season. Retif won three of the games and Ponstein’s won two. After the championship game, Coach Latino agreed the Oilers are a resilient bunch.
“That’s those boys,” he said, gesturing towards the dugout where they were busily picking up their gear to board the bus back to Jesuit. “It goes back to Saturday when Christian Hess gave us six and two-thirds of solid effort and allowed us to save our pitching a little bit. It spilled into today. I thought Collin Miller did a great job. He gave us six strong innings and Cashman came in and did an equally good job.”
Coach Latino was pleased with his team’s eight hits, especially Nick Ray’s double and Alex Watermeier’s home run.
“We hit some balls really hard and Nick Ray’s hit obviously was the biggest of the game,” he said. “Nick drove in three runs. But even some of our outs were loud. I thought our at-bats were good. Alex’s home run in the sixth inning answered Ponstein’s run in the previous inning. Going from 3-0 to 3-1, the game got a little tighter. Alex’s home run erased that run and being up by three is a lot better than being up by two.”
Did the 30-minute weather delay affect the players?
“No, we were changing pitchers anyway,” Coach Latino replied. “I thought Cashman did a really superb job coming in out of the bullpen, pitching three innings on Saturday, and coming back with an equally strong three innings today.”
Capturing the City Series Championship means Retif Oil is automatically one of the eight teams that will compete at the Legion’s state championship tournament, which takes place Saturday, July 23 through Wednesday, July 27, at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium. It also means that Retif Oil is exempt from having to play in the Legion’s Regional Tournament, which is scheduled Saturday, July 9 through Wednesday, July 13, at the Rooney.
Skipping the regional event can be a two-edged sword, although the Oilers were in the same situation last year when they captured the City Series and passed up the regional tourney. They wound up with a state championship (their second in a row), which took them to the Mid-South Regional Tournament in Arkansas. Retif went undefeated in five games to claim the championship at the 2015 regional tournament. The Oilers, along with seven other teams that had won their regional tournaments, competed at the American Legion World Series last August in Shelby, NC. When the dust settled in Shelby, Retif returned home with a runner-up trophy. Second best Legion team in the country was, and still is, nothing to sneeze at.
So, how will the Oilers, whose overall record is 21-4-1, fill in the idle hours to prepare for the Legion’s state tournament that is just shy of three weeks away?
“Hard work, we’ll get back at it,” Coach Latino said, adding that the players will enjoy a few days off beginning Monday, July 4. “After that we’re going back to practice, back to working hard and doing some things fundamentally better. We’ll try to find some games to play in the interim. We’re looking forward to a very good state tournament.”