The American Legion baseball state tournament is returning to the Northwest suburbs.
Beginning Wednesday at Lloyd Meyer Field at Recreation Park in Arlington Heights, six teams from across the state will battle for the Illinois Legion state championship. And keeping with tradition, there will be no admission and the pass-the hat custom will take place at each game.
Three teams from the Northwest suburbs will be battling in the double-elimination tournament that begins at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Arlington Post 208, Barrington Post 158 and Northwest Legion Post 690 will compete, with play continuing each day through Saturday. The title game will be at either 11 a.m. or 3 p.m. Saturday.
Dennis Drolet, who is the tournament chairperson and was a player on the 1976 Arlington team that finished second in the nation, said that Legion baseball is still a huge success across the country.
"I grew up quite a bit and had a great experience with it," said Drolet, who is an assistant coach on the Arlington Legion team that is hosting the tournament. "It really helped me develop as a person. And the kids today have a great opportunity to play baseball in a program as well established as this one is."
There was a dinner scheduled to honor all the teams Tuesday night at the Arlington Post 208 Legion Hall. Tom Lundstedt, who was an all-state high school in basketball and baseball before being drafted No. 1 by the Cubs in 1970 and playing for the North Siders and the Minnesota Twins, was slated as guest speaker.
By virtue of hosting the state tournament, Arlington Post 208 received an automatic bid to the tournament. But Arlington (35-4) showed it didn't need any gifts by rolling through its competition in the 1st Division tournament.
Arlington has had solid pitching from starters Mick Wazorick, Mike Smith, Andrew Ferrante, Mike Piet, and Erik Schurtz along with a terrific bullpen of Nick Donzelli, Sean Delacruz, John Santee and Adam Kowalski.
The hitting hasn't taken a back seat for Arlington as Jake Cavaiani, Joe Silva, Mike Dolan, Ferrante, Schurtz, Alex Niecikowski, Tommy Flahaven, CJ Reichel and Grant Gerdes have taken turns banging the ball around.
Arlington, which also won the regular season title in the 1st Division, won tournaments in Wheaton, Moline and Appleton and placed second in the Barrington tournament.
"We can play with teams," said coach Lloyd Meyer, who is in his 61st year as head coach with Arlington. "We feel we are a pretty good club. We have good depth in pitching and we have plenty of depth as well."
Arlington will face Barrington Post 158 in a matchup between a pair of teams that are playing their best baseball right now. Arlington beat Barrington in both of their meetings this year.
After an 8-6 start, Barrington (37-7) has won 29 of the last 30 games it has played, including the most recent 11.
The 2nd Division champion, which is making its first appearance at state since 2009, has been getting great pitching. Scott Nelson leads a talented staff which includes Quentin Sefcik, Jared Ludwig, Nick Covek, Dan Kubiuk, Bradley Powell and Ahren Ludwig.
The bats have also been alive all year with Mitch Pfeiffer, Jake Peterson, Jake Coon, Jack Lenz, Anthony Lombardi, Jared Ludwig, Powell and Kubiuk coming up big.
"This is great for the program and the town," said Barrington coach Nate Gray, who is in his first year as head coach of Post 158. "Our pitching has been great all summer. And we have been hitting well too."
The Northwest Legion team Post 690, which is comprised of players from Elk Grove, Palatine and Schaumburg, finished 2nd in the 1st Division (Cook County) tournament. But they were able to advance to the state tournament since Arlington had an automatic berth; that means Northwest Legion is the official 1st Division representative.
Mack Rosman leads a talented pitching staff along with Adam O'Malley, Max Paolicchi, Dylan Roskin and Peter Arbov. The Northwest team will also look to count on Pat O'Malley, Connor Quinn, Josh Bergbreiter, Matt Gura, Jason Wilhite, Brandon Cortez, Danny Hermetet, Tyler Klicka, Jack Holden, Joe Franz and 15-year-old Joey Lopez.
"We are pretty deep in pitching," said coach Jeff Ryder, who is coaching the team along with Kevin Miller. "The kids have been getting along great. They have played against each other in the past, so they know each other. It is a community-based team."
Northwest Legion (24-7-1) will meet Mattoon Post 88 in the tournament's opening game at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Mattoon (24-6), the 4th Division champion, is led by Ryan Hutchinson, who is batting .495 with 37 RBI. Payton Hartbank (.477), Tanner Scott (.371 with 36 RBI) and Carter Price (hitting .385; ERA of 1.77 with 48 strikeouts in 35⅔ innings pitched) will also be factors.
Wednesday's 3 p.m. game will feature two teams from outside the area as Galesburg Post 285 meets Swansea/Fairview Heights Posts 2007/978.
Galesburg (33-15), the 3rd Division champion, is making its first trip to the state tournament since 2011. The Giants are led by Drakes Sykes, who leads the team with 77 hits, 7 of which were home runs. He also has scored 64 runs while driving 45 more and batting .435. Drew Claeys (.331 with 7 homers) and Carson Cheesman (.446) are also keys to the offense.
Swansea/Fairview Heights (31-9) has been an offensive juggernaut in its own right, scoring 57 runs in its last 4 games. The 5th Division winner, which is in its first year as a combined squad, is led by Tanner Hudson, Rich Boatman, Collin Horton and Kevin Horner.
The state champion moves on to the Great Lakes Regional tournament in Terre Haute, Ind., beginning Aug. 7. In a unique twist, the state runner-up also will advance to Terre Haute.