Legion baseball team overcomes adversity to clinch state title


Courtesy Photo

The Legion team poses with their state championship banner. Back row left to right: Coach Scott Kennedy, Josh Fisher, Max Peterson, Sam Petersen, Jack Edwards, Isaac Kult, Drake Trent, Owen Sutter, Keegan Converse, Derek Wacker, Creek Kennedy, Coach Gary Hollst; Middle row left to right: Trevin Arlt, Jesse Kult, Casey Stevens, Jesse Keiser, Caleb Daniell; Front row left to right: Braxton Wentworth, Gage Kennedy, Zach Kennedy, Frankie Hebenstreit

For the 2021 Yutan Legion Juniors baseball team, this past summer brought more than enough adversity, from losing 10 of their first 14 games, changing coaches in the middle of the season and having doubts about the rest of the season.  Yet from this adversity came the ultimate success: a state title.

After struggling during the first part of the season, the Chieftains brought in a new coach, Gary “Boomer” Hollst, and with that came more changes. 

“Practice formats, batting orders and player positions were changed,” captain Jesse Keiser said. “Casey Stevens got moved to left-field towards the end of the season a little bit. Batting order changed up. I went from hitting one through fourth to hitting seventh.” 

Though they had to adjust to many changes, the Chieftains gained some confidence in their new coach. 

I know Coach Boomer previously took a team to the state and they won it,”  Keiser said, “so I had really high hopes that we could replicate that.”

I know Coach Boomer previously took a team to the state and they won it,”  Keiser said, “so I had really high hopes that we could replicate that.”

— Jesse Keiser

Keiser’s hopes came true, as the Chieftains held a winning streak for the rest of the season, going 14-0 after Hollst took over coaching. 

“It’s kind of surprising because it showed how we could play when we were led [in] the right direction,” captain Sam Petersen said. “We all just played with a different mindset.”

Looking forward to key moments in games also kept another captain, Casey Stevens, going.

“You look forward to those moments,” Stevens said. “It comes down to those and you want to be put in those spots.”

Stevens capitalized in many of those moments in the state tournament with Keiser and Petersen. In the second round, Stevens was part of a six-run comeback in the sixth inning to win the game against top-rated Dannebrog-Cairo-Boelus, where Keiser also had a diving bare hand catch.

Yutan senior Jesse Keiser and sophomore Derek Wacker celebrate after Keiser’s diving barehand catch at the state legion baseball tournament. This boosted the team’s morale to beat number one ranked Dannebrog-Cairo-Boelus.

In the semifinals, the Chieftains were losing to Nemaha Construction by three runs in the seventh inning with two outs and no runners on base. Keiser started the rally by hitting a single and stealing home. Sophomore Braxton Wentworth then scored sophomore Jesse Kult with a single. To cap off the comeback, Petersen hit a walk-off single to score Stevens and Wentworth.

In the state final, the Chieftains would have to play Nemaha Construction once again after Nemaha won their way through the losers bracket. The championship game came down to a defensive battle with a scoreless start. The Chieftains broke the tie in the fourth inning with senior Gage Kennedy hitting a sacrifice fly ball to bring in sophomore Derek Wacker. From that point, the Chieftains held on to their momentum with pitcher Stevens and their defense holding Nemaha Construction to no runs. 

“It was a very unreal feeling,” Keiser said. “I was incredibly happy I got to be a part of that team.”

Despite succeeding in their end goal, the captains aren’t satisfied with one state title.

“I envision us in the state championship again,” Keiser said. 

Stevens shares the same vision as Keiser. 

“We’re gonna run it back 100%,” Stevens said. “Maybe we win juniors and seniors next year.”