STE. GENEVIEVE • Thomas Burke's eyes nearly bulged out of his head.
For three innings, Cape Girardeau American Post 63 starting pitcher Bryan McNeely didn't miss his spot. His fastball snapped the glove and his breaking pitch buckled knees. But the first pitch McNeeley sent to Burke, the Eureka Post 177 shortstop, missed. And Burke didn't. "I was just trying to be aggressive at the plate," Burke said. "I saw that first pitch and jumped." Burke's two-run blast in the fourth inning broke a scoreless tie and Eureka went on to knock off Cape Girardeau 4-1 in the Zone 4 Tournament at Yank's Field on Thursday.
Eureka (21-10) will play at 8 p.m. on Friday in the championship semifinal against Festus after Festus defeated Ste. Genevieve 9-4 on Thursday.Ste. Genevieve defeated Thoman-Boothe 3-2 in the first game of the Zone 4 Tournament on Wednesday. Cape Girardeau will play Thoman-Boothe (21-13) at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in an elimination game.Eureka won the first game of the double-elimination affair for the first time in three successive appearances."Getting the monkey off the back is a good way to put it," Eureka coach Alex Wolters said. "Now that we're done with it, I'll be honest, I was anxious for this game all week. I was nervous going into it and in and out of it. It feels good to get it done."Eureka second baseman William Wood got the ball rolling with a hit that set the stage for Burke's blast. "It kind of got us (loose)," Burke said.
Burke, after striking out on three pitches in the first inning, didn't allow McNeely to throw him more than one pitch as he deposited the initial offering over the wall in center for a 2-0 lead. Eureka went to small ball in the fifth to tack on two more runs."We've got some guys with good speed at the bottom of the lineup and people who can lay bunts down in good spots," Wolters said. "I felt in that situation that it was a good time to do that."After a leadoff walk to outfielder Noah Baker, designated hitter Nick Heine roped a single before outfielder Nick Humphrey moved the runners over with a bunt. Outfielder Josh Samuel then set down a perfect bunt to score Baker and Heine.
That was more than enough for starter Luke Kunkel. "Luke Kunkel is a great pitcher and at this level of American Legion baseball, he's one of the better arms you'll see," Cape Girardeau coach Josh Meyer said. "He's got a plus fastball and mixing in those great breaking pitches. Really it's his poise on the mound is really what separates him from a lot of different guys." Kunkel gave up one run on seven hits over 6 2-3 innings. He struck out five.
Wolters didn't want to remove Kunkel, but the hurler had hit the 105 pitch limit.
"It was kind of funny because way back at the beginning of the season, he was throwing a shutout against Thoman-Boothe and it was the same thing, 6 2-3 innings and I had to go get him," Wolters said. "It was a funny moment there."
Eureka's defense was able to get out of difficult situations numerous times as Cape Girardeau lost three runners on the base paths.
Meyer believes that it was just a case of over aggression. He isn't worried as his team is facing a do-or-die situation on Friday against Thoman-Boothe.
"We're still fine and we just can't panic," Meyer said. "It's cliche, but we've got to play one game at a time. We're very deep in pitching and we feel like that's an advantage of ours."