The Millstadt Green Machine relished the role of underdog in the Mon-Clair League Playoffs over the weekend, posting wins over three higher-seeded teams to win this year’s league championship.
Longtime Millstadt manager Norm “Shorty” Toenjes guided his squad with a heavy heart. His sister, Rita Helfrich, died Saturday at the age of 57 following a long battle with breast cancer.
“She would’ve wanted me to be there,” an emotional Toenjes told the Republic-Times on Monday.
Millstadt entered the eight-team playoffs as the sixth seed and opened against Waterloo, the No. 3 seed, last Wednesday.
Waterloo starting pitcher Reid Hendrickson cruised through the first four innings, surrendering just two hits, before Millstadt struck with three runs in the fifth inning and four more in the seventh to win the game, 7-2.
Cal Kossina’s two-run homer in the fifth keyed the Green Machine offense.
Former Millers hurler Andrew Yancik was sharp for Millstadt, allowing just four hits all game. Waterloo was unable to score until the seventh inning, plating two runs on three walks and an error.
“Yancik was big in that first game,” Toenjes said. “He’s been our best pitcher this season.”
Next up was a date with No. 4 seed Cape Girardeau on Saturday. Toenjes rolled the dice and threw southpaw Belleville West senior-to-be Joey Kossina.
The gamble paid off as the Green Machine cruised to a 7-1 victory.
“Joey stepped in and pitched an outstanding game,” Toenjes said. “He never really struggled. He pitches well beyond his age.”
Joey received offensive support from his older brothers Tony and Cal Kossina in the win. Both went 2-for-4.
Recent Gibault graduate Mark Branz went 2-for-3, Jacob Wilson went 2-for-4 and centerfielder Darius Ford put the game away for the Green Machine with a two-run homer in the seventh inning.
Ironically, Joey Kossina recently committed to play college ball at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
That win set up a showdown with defending league champion Belleville in the best-of-three finals.
The Rockies, who blanked Charleston, 7-0, in their playoff opener, pulled out an extra-innings win over the St. Louis Spikes on Saturday to advance to the final. Mike Hardin smashed a three-run walk-off homer in the ninth inning for Belleville.
Game one of the finals on Saturday evening featured a pitching match-up of righty Logan Boente for Millstadt and lefty Mike Breyman for the Rockies.
The solid pitching continued for Millstadt, as Boente – who throws for McKendree University – went six and two-thirds innings. He allowed just four hits and walked four while striking out three.
Andy Barton came on for the save in Millstadt’s 6-3 win.
The big blow in this contest came off the bat of Ford, who blasted a three-run homer in the fifth inning.
Hunter Grupe went 3-for-4 with a run for Millstadt in the win.
On Sunday, Millstadt went with Yancik again to try and nail down the title. That decision worked as well.
Yancik threw six and two-thirds innings and the Green Machine offense exploded in a 13-3 victory. Mike Krumm took the loss on the mound for Belleville.
Wilson went 4-for-4 with three doubles, two runs and two RBIs.
Tony Kossina, who was named tourney MVP, went 3-for-4 with two stolen bases, two runs and two RBIs.
John Hilpert also went 3-for-4 with a double and three runs.
Branz, Ford and Dylan McEwen each added two hits apiece.
“We were just relentless,” Toenjes said of Sunday’s offensive attack.
Toenjes said his team’s pitching was solid throughout the playoffs and a number of the hitters came through when it mattered most.
“We had a lot of guys who had big tournaments,” he said. “Our pitchers did a good job of keeping the top hitters under control all weekend.”
This is Millstadt’s second league playoffs championship in five years, having also won in 2015.