Dirtbags capture Midwest Freedom Classic

Squad pummels competition, goes 7-0 in tourney

The Southside Dirtbags are shown celebrating their first tournament win of the season — the Midwest Freedom Classic. The Dirtbags went 7-0 in last weekends tourney.

The Southside Dirtbags are shown celebrating their first tournament win of the season — the Midwest Freedom Classic. The Dirtbags went 7-0 in last weekend’s tourney.

By Robert Chalupny

The Southside Dirtbags 18U baseball team won its first tournament of the 2014 season, pummeling the competition and going 7-0 in last weekend’s Midwest Freedom Classic.

The Dirtbags outscored their opponents 46-12 in the Midwest Freedom Classic, after struggling in their first three tournaments this season. But they appeared to turn a corner a week ago in terms of their focus and overall game awareness, sparking the seven-game winning streak.

Dirtbags head coach Mike St. Cin told the Call that he was excited to see his players’ efforts rewarded with the tournament victory.

“It feels great. It’s a very satisfying feeling. I’m just proud of the boys, just proud and really happy,” he said. “There was a lot of good teams in the tournament. For us to go 7-0, I’m just really happy for them and proud.”

Everyone on the team contributed to the success the club enjoyed over the weekend — from the pitching to the defense to the hitting.

“Our pitching was incredible. It is still baseball and the name of the game is still pitching,” St. Cin said. “I mean everyone on the staff contributed.

“When our pitching and defense is doing that, then it really gives our offense the ability to relax. From top to bottom, we really hit the ball well. Everyone had a great approach all weekend.”

Dirtbags Baseball Club Director Frank Causino also cited focus as a key ingredient in the team’s recent success.

“This year’s team is very talented, but has not been focused until this past weekend,” he told the Call. “We finally put it all together with strong pitching, solid defense and timely hitting.

“Coach St. Cin has done a great job building the chemistry. And in 27 years of coaching, I have never had a bunch of players that have more fun than these guys. It’s always a loose and noisy dugout.”

The Dirtbags won the championship game 6-2 over Recruits Black on Sunday at St. Louis University. The winning pitcher was lefty starter Jack Kemper, a Vianney graduate who will attend Missouri Southern University in the fall.

Kemper, who pitched four scoreless innings and left with a 4-0 lead, had also closed the final two innings of the 8-6 semifinal win over the Southside Baseball Club of Columbia.

The highlight of the tournament for the Dirtbags came earlier on Sunday as Oakville graduate and Evansville University recruit Ryan Brady fired a no-hitter against Team Heat of Wisconsin at SLU. Brady was near-perfect as the only blemish was a leadoff walk on a 3-2 pitch to the leadoff hitter in the fourth inning.

Effective starting pitching was key for the Dirtbags, as seven different starters — Blake Johnson of Oakville, Matt Causino of St. Mary’s, Tyler Kellenberger of Oakville, Andrew Waller of St. Louis University High, Brady, Andy Oliver of Oakville and Kemper picked up the tournament wins.

Waller’s win on Saturday at Edwardsville High School was a three-hit, complete-game shutout with nine strikeouts.

The Dirtbags also got saves from Kemper in pool play on Saturday morning and Causino in the championship game on Sunday.

The top hitter for the Dirtbags was leadoff hitter and second baseman Dylan Okenfuss of Mehlville, who was 9-16 with 3 walks and 3 HBPs. They also got heavy production from Ryan Lange of Oakville, who hit 10-21 with 7 RBIs; Mat Jones of Vianney, who hit 8-18, with a home run and 5 RBIs; Oliver, who went 7-15; and Nick Kenny of Oakville, who went 8-22.

The Dirtbags, 17-9 overall and 8-4 in St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association play, are firing on all cylinders at just the right time with four regular-season games left.

St. Cin told the Call the seven-game winning streak is exactly what the players needed for confidence and momentum heading into the SLABA Tournament.

“It’s huge. It really is. I think the goal of every coach, whether you’re playing baseball, basketball, football, hockey or soccer, is to have your team clicking on all cylinders at the end of the season — as opposed to the beginning of the season or even midway,” the Dirtbags coach said. “Obviously, the later in the season you go, the more important the games are.”

Most importantly for the Dirtbags, they need to maintain the level of play that they achieved last weekend throughout the remainder of the summer, according to St. Cin.

“It’s going to be even more difficult to keep this mojo going. We’ve got to work just as hard, be happy with ourselves, be ecstatic, really enjoy it, but don’t be satisfied because we still got three more weeks left of baseball and we want to continue to be playing this well till the end of our summer,” he said.