WEST FRANKFORT-Altamont American Junior Legion Post 512 didn't take the easiest road to a state finals berth.
Post 512 lost its opening game of the Fifth Division Tournament, forcing three straight win-or-go-home games that reached a finale in the third-place showdown against Bethalto Post 214 Monday night.
After a morning victory earlier in the day over Breese Post 252 ended with a 4-3 score in dramatic comeback fashion, starting pitcher Nick Miller and the Post 512 defense never let Bethalto in the game, allowing only three runners to get in scoring position to fuel a 3-0 win.
"That was our goal at the beginning of the year," Post 512 coach Jeff Fritchtnitch said of making it to state as the No. 3 seed. "We always take the hard route for some reason."
Miller pitched seven innings of shutout baseball for Fritchtnitch and company, as Post 512 advanced to the state tournament after an 0-2 record in last year's Fifth Division Tournament bracket. Post 512 will play on Saturday in Paris against the host team, Paris Post 211, in a 3:30 p.m. contest.
Post 214 couldn't seem to solve Miller on the mound, as the Post 512 hurler needed just 64 pitches to complete seven innings of action.
"We told Nick, 'You're not going to strike everybody out, these guys are too good. Keep the ball down, you're going to get ground balls and they're going to field it and throw guys out,'" Fritchtnitch said.
The Post 512 defense came up with a number of timely plays on defense, none bigger than Cole Borders' scoop at first on a low throw from catcher Aaron Goeckner in the bottom of the fifth. The throw came with Post 512 clinging to a 1-0 lead and the tying run on third base. Borders' two-out scoop kept the shutout alive, and would be the third and final time Post 214 got a runner to at least second base.
"We work on those things," Fritchtnitch said of the scoop. "As soon as it happened the guys were like, 'That's the first time that that's happened all year.' But when you do it over and over in practice, there it finally is. That's baseball."
Post 512 jumped ahead just three batters into the game. Ryan Armstrong started the bottom of the first with a leadoff double to left field, then Brandon Helmuth sent him home on an infield single and throwing error to first from shortstop Tyler Andrus.
The lead was stretched to three in the sixth when Helmuth reached home on a wild pitch and Jacob Miller connected on an RBI single to plate Goeckner, who doubled two batters earlier.
Post 512's offense closed with six hits on the day, while Post 214 was held to just four. Fritchtnicht's club also turned two inning-ending double plays.
"He had us off balance, of course," Post 214 coach Jeff Smith said. "We had some bad luck, but like I told them, we had to make our own breaks and we just didn't do it."
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bethalto	0 0 0	0 0 0	0	0 4 2Altamont	1 0 0	0 0 2	x	3 6 1WP - N. Miller	LP - JonesBethalto: Cato (1B); Bryant (1B); Buhs (1B); Buchanan (1B).Altamont: Armstrong (2B); Helmuth (1B, RBI); Goeckner (2B); J. Miller (1B, RBI); Guerrettaz (1B), Fritchtnitch (1B).