The Travelers did it their own way.
Unconventional practices, unlikely heroes and unwavering confidence during high-leverage situations helped Sedalia Post 642 reclaim the American Legion AAA Missouri State Championship.
Travelers starting pitcher Will Knight lasted seven-plus innings and Baron Austin provided the go-ahead hit in the 10th inning of a 3-0 victory Saturday over Festus Post 253 at Liberty Park Stadium. It is their first state title since 2016.
Connor Tichenor legged out a ground ball to first to lead off the tie-breaking frame, scored the go-ahead run and preserved the shutout pitching with four strikeouts in three innings.
Aaron Hughes, who replaced an injured Duffin Makings in the first inning, continued the extra-inning rally with a single to shallow right field.
The Travelers (30-16) advance to the American Legion Mid-South Regional Tournament at Duncan Field in Hastings, Nebraska. They play the champions from Nebraska, Fremont Post 20 First State Bank and Trust, 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“It’s a baseball city, always has been,” Hughes said of Sedalia. “It’s really good to give back to it.”
Hughes entered the game when Makings — who on Friday reached base three times and pitched a complete game — tumbled after running out a grounder to second base.
Unorthodox methods from Sedalia, such as favoring the visiting side and shaving pencil-thin mustaches, have been explained by a win streak and boredom, respectively. Batting their tallest player, the 6-foot-5 Hughes, at the leadoff spot was out of necessity. Hughes said he stayed true to his usual approach.
“Whenever somebody gets hurt, it does bring you down,” Hughes said. “I think it was just our mindset at the plate. Just stay through it, relax and do the same thing we did with him. And it sure worked late in the game.”
Austin, who was hitless through six appearances at state, delivered the eventual game-winner with the Festus defense playing in and the bases loaded. Featured in three of the last five lineups for Sedalia, twice as designated hitter, Austin said he was humbled to help the Travelers secure their second state title in four summers.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit,” Austin said. “It felt really good to get that hit.”
Austin defied his recent slump with a clear mindset in the batter’s box. He was looking fastball. In the Travelers’ own words, his clutch moment was his time to “cowboy up.” It is part of the reason Post 642 has won eight straight and are undefeated through seven postseason games.
“I just stuck to what I knew,” Austin said. “I don’t ever get too worked up about things, because I know how good we are.”
An outfield assist from Brandon Kindle pinched Post 253 of a scoring opportunity in the sixth. His throw from right field met Jordan Duncan, who singled, at second base as Festus’ Jacob Bridges crossed home plate.
Festus starting pitcher Brendon Smock matched Knight with 7 1/3 scoreless innings. He issued one walk and recorded five strikeouts.
Along with the high stakes, Knight said the brisk pace set by Saturday’s pitching duel helped him stay focused. He surrendered five hits, had three strikeouts and issued no walks.
“Our goal was state,” Knight said. “So I was giving everything I had.”
Travelers head coach Tanner McKee said he was proud of the role his reserves played in securing a trip to Hastings, Nebraska.
“It was always somebody different,” McKee said. “It was an honest team effort.”
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2.