The schedule is packed for the Sedalia Juniors American Legion baseball team.
Opening the season this weekend with the Sedalia Memorial Day Tournament on Dey Field at Liberty Park, the Juniors will be heading to tournaments throughout the summer, playing in Blue Springs, Independence, Springfield, twice playing in tournaments at Central Missouri and heading out July 10 for a tournament at Wichita State.
“We’ve got a large group here that are good baseball players,” said manager Jeff Mays. “We just wanted to challenge them a little bit more this summer to help improve their high school programs. We wanted to expose them to the toughest schedule we could put together to help prepare them.”
Mays sees the summer program as a way to help improve high school baseball in the area. Many of the Juniors played for Jud Kindle’s Smith-Cotton team which won the West Central Conference but fell to Hickman in the first round of the district tournament. Mays said the ultimate goal is to bring district championships to area high schools and the best way to bring those are to allow players to spend the summer facing top-notch teams.
All together, the Juniors’ schedule includes four or five showcase tournaments and around 65 games.
“Once we start, this particular group doesn’t have many days off until the end of July,” Mays said.
The pitching staff includes Smith-Cotton pitchers Gavin Jones, Jayce Simoncic, Baxter Mays, Jake McFail and Jake Kindle. Lincoln’s Connor Spunaugle and Corbin Mertgen are in the mix for time on the mound as well.
“We think we’re pretty deep with the pitching staff,” Mays said.
Gehrig Taylor and Christian Jones of Clinton will also be joining the team, though with the Cardinals still alive in the MSHSAA tournament they will not be available this weekend.
“Taylor is a good left-handed pitcher who also played the outfield,” Mays said.
Jones also catches and will be in the mix for time behind the plate with the juniors along with Luke Rincker from Knob Noster.
“Luke does a good job,” Mays said. “He had (former Travelers manager and Smith-Cotton assistant Mark) Carey this year as his head coach. He developed. He needs to work on his arm strength but it’s coming and we’re glad to have him.
Rincker will be joined by Panthers teammates Chase Hagel and Derrick Bivins. All three started for Carey this season, Bivins at first base and Hagel at second.
Blake Grupe, Tristen Jackson and Landon Dove will be in the mix for playing time after spending much of the spring in junior varsity action for Smith-Cotton. The Juniors will also have soon-to-be Smith-Cotton freshman Brice Pannier.
From Lincoln, the Juniors get Mason Sanders who saw playing time at third for the Cardinals but could be in the outfield this summer.
“He’s just a good utility player,” Mays said.