Elgin, Elk Grove set for state Legion

By Marty Maciaszek
Updated 7/27/2011 12:10 AM

Elk Grove and Elgin overcame their share of challenges to reach the American Legion baseball state tournament.

But they made it to Galesburg as part of the six-team event at Jim Sundberg Field.

And one of them will face the challenge of trying to make it through the loser's bracket as Cook County champion Elk Grove (21-13) and Second Division champion Elgin (26-9) meet in today's tourney opener at noon.

Elk Grove is making its second state trip in three years. Elgin, which won state titles in 1970 and 1993, is making its first trip since 1995.

"I told the kids no matter what happens, they're one of the best six teams in the state," said Elgin coach and general manager Bob Todd, who also coached gymnastics at Larkin for 32 years. "Taking a team to state is something every coach hopes to do. I hope the kids remember how valuable this is to them."

Host Galesburg (38-12) won the Third Division title and faces Fifth Division champ Alton (27-10) at 7 p.m. Rock Island (30-8), the Third Division runner-up, plays Fourth Division champ Mattoon (20-15) at 3:30 p.m.

The double-elimination tournament is scheduled to end Saturday with the winner advancing to the Great Lakes Regional in Midland, Mich.

Todd and Elk Grove coach Brian Mucha know Elgin's 14-10 win in their early-season matchup doesn't mean much now.

But it was part of a rough stretch Elk Grove survived when it suffered four straight walk-off losses at the Wheaton tournament.

"I think it might have been a blessing in disguise," said Mucha, who played for perennial Legion power Arlington. "I told the guys since I've been doing this and if you look at the past County champs, you never want to peak too early."

Elk Grove had to rebound from a stunning 10-0 loss in 7 innings to open the Cook County tourney and after two days of rainouts it won the title 3-2 over Palatine on Connor McHugh's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth.

Concordia-bound Ryan Hayes will start today on four days' rest and lefty Paul Warble will go Thursday after throwing 21 pitches in relief Monday. North Park-bound catcher Joe Belmonte was the Cook County MVP and has been solid all year and shortstop and leadoff man Thomas Byrne went 9-for-15 in the tourney.

Todd had to take over on-field duties in late June when coach Joe Morel resigned to devote more time to his family. Elgin has been on fire in the postseason, knocking off nemesis St. Charles en route to the Kane County tourney title and then rolling through the Second Division tourney.

Leading hitter Sam Klein got a complete-game win and hit 3 homers en route to Division MVP honors. Ryan Burke won the Division clincher and second baseman Drew Stover has been a solid contributor offensively and defensively.

Luke Duffy (4-1) will start today for Elgin.

"They came together really good at the end and started playing excellent ball," Todd said. "They started to buy into it and play with a lot of confidence."