When the Whitehouse American Legion Post 384 baseball team won the Region 5 tournament championship on Monday it joined an incredibly elite group. Over 5,200 teams aim to reach the Legion World Series, but the local team is just one of eight that remains in contention for the crown.
Whitehouse advanced to the American Legion World Series by beating a team from Illinois at the regional tournament in Midland, Mich. The team traveled to Bartlesville, Okla., and plays in the first round tomorrow at 1 p.m.
“I never imagined that we would have gone this far,” said coach Dave Whitmire. “Over the last three weeks, it's been a refuse-to-lose attitude. It's just been amazing. I'm very proud of these kids.”
Whitehouse went 5-0 at the regional tournament. It beat teams from Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois to improve its record to 42-12.
The team has come a long way. It first had to win district and state titles just to qualify for the regional event. It won the state tournament on Aug. 9 to become one of only 64 teams to still be alive in the playoffs.
Whitehouse went 7-1 to win the 12-team Ohio American Legion State Tournament in Athens, Ohio, and earned a berth in the regional tournament. The Whitehouse-based team consists of players from Perrysburg, Bowling Green, Anthony Wayne, Springfield, and Elmwood high schools.
“It was amazing to go 7-1 in the state tournament,” Whitmire said. “This is a great group of kids. They showed an awful lot of guts at the state tournament.”
Indeed, the team had to play eight games in five days including back-to-back double headers on the final days.
Whitehouse won its first three games to reach the winners' bracket final. But they were beat 4-2 by Marysville.
The team had to win two more games to earn a re-match with Marysville. After doing just that, Whitehouse then had to defeat Marysville twice to win the title.
Whitehouse won the first game handily, 7-3. But it was tied 2-2 in the eighth inning in the second contest before Bowling Green's Andrew Foster hit a game-winning sacrifice fly to help Whitehouse win 3-2.
The core of the Whitehouse team comes from Anthony Wayne, Bowling Green, and Perrysburg high schools. Five are from BG, three attend Perrysburg, and three are from Anthony Wayne. The team also has two players from Springfield Township and one from Elmwood.
The Whitehouse American Legion Post 384 team is only in its second year of existence. Whitmire said Anthony Wayne High School baseball coach Mark Nell approached him about forming a team of Whitehouse-area players to compete after the high school season was finished.
“We really wanted to get a team going to help the Anthony Wayne kids and other kids in the area,” Whitmire said.
Whitmire coached at Otsego High School in the late 1990s and is an assistant coach at Bowling Green State University. He has been an assistant coach at Owens Community College and at Elmwood High School. He played for BGSU from 1989-91.
Whitmire said there were no tryouts for the team and that he handpicked the players. He said he still has connections with area high school coaches who helped him determine the make-up of the team.
“We pretty much run it like a college team,” Whitmire said. “We win based on the way we do things. We're basically giving them an opportunity to play at a little bit higher level than ACME baseball.”
Whitmire said American Legion is “a big step above” ACME baseball, which also is a league set up for high school players to compete in the summer.
“American Legion is very big in the state of Ohio. It's quality baseball and it's especially good for the younger kids to get exposed to it a bit,” he said. “The guys see quality competition over the summer.”
The team played a 40-game regular season schedule this year.
Players must not be older than 19 to compete in American Legion baseball. Players must also be at least a freshman in high school to be eligible.
There are 86 American Legion teams in Ohio that compete in 12 districts throughout the state. The 12 district winners qualified for the American Legion State Tournament in Athens.
The Whitehouse team plays in one of the most competitive districts in the state, according to Whitmire. The other teams in the district are from Findlay, Napoleon, Ottawa, and Pemberville.
“Our district has been very strong lately,” he said.
For four years in a row, the state champions have come from the northwest Ohio district. Last year a team from Findlay won the title. In 2000 and 2001, teams from Napoleon took home the state championship.
Last year, the Whitehouse team finished with a 30-13 record but lost to Findlay and bowed out of the state tournament.
Seven players are back from that team. Six are high school graduates that are going on to play college baseball next spring. Four will attend Heidelberg College.
“We're kind of like the Heidelberg JV,” Whitmire joked.
Steve Calevro (Perrysburg High School), Alex Rutter (BG), Matt Decker (Springfield), and Travis Rothenbuhler (Elmwood) all will play together at Heidelberg.
Calevro and Decker have both excelled on the mound for the Whitehouse team. Decker had an 11-0 record and 2.14 earned run average through Aug. 9. Rothenbuhler is a first baseman and outfielder.
Left-handed pitcher Adam Gumpf starred for the NLL champion Perrysburg Yellow Jackets last spring and has continued his dominance into the summer with the Whitehouse team. Gumpf will play for Whitmire at BGSU next spring.
Kurt Wells, who also is Gumpf's former high school teammate, will play for the Falcons in 2004. Wells is a third baseman and an outfielder.
Anthony Wayne graduate Josh Barney will continue his career as an infielder at the University of Findlay next year.
Outfielder Jason Sparks, who also is an Anthony Wayne alum, played outfield at Owens Community College in the spring.
“He's the only one on our team with one year of college experience,” Whitmire said.
Pitcher Dean Martin, who played for Bowling Green High School, is hoping to play at Central Florida Community College next year.
Six other Whitehouse players are still playing at the high school level.
Steve Decker is a catcher who will be a sophomore at Springfield High School.
“He's going to be real good,” Whitmire said.
Andrew Foster, Ben Titus, and Zakk Hanna will continue to play for Bowling Green next spring. Foster is a senior catcher, Titus will be a senior and play shortstop and Hanna will be a junior outfielder for the Bobcats.
Andy Whewell is a utility player who will be a sophomore at Anthony Wayne. Pitcher Cory Bergfeld will be a junior pitcher for the Generals.
Whitmire believes in the old baseball axiom that good pitching and defense wins games.
“We have a great pitching staff and we play solid defense. We don't make mistakes,” Whitmire said.