MOLINE — It was only fitting that the Moline Legion baseball squad would take the field for Friday's opening game of the 18th annual Leo Brunner Invitational tournament.
Even more fitting was that Post 246's opponent in the morning opener at Holmgren Field was one of its traditional local rivals, East Moline's Post 227 team.
Capitalizing on some early East Moline errors to score six times in the first two innings, Moline received a strong pitching performance from Jake Nitzel to open its hometown tourney with an 8-1 victory.
"I felt our guys were ready to go this morning," said Moline coach Jim Zacharewicz, whose 16-4-1 club came out strong and sharp despite the 8:48 a.m. first pitch. "We had a big week last week where we played a lot of games and were playing some good baseball, and that transitioned to (Friday)."
That transition certainly showed in the pitching of Nitzel (3-1).
Aside from surrendering an unearned run in the top of the third inning, he was nearly flawless, allowing four hits and two walks and recording 12 strikeouts as he went the distance on a hot morning.
"I wanted to come out and pound the strike zone, try and get a lot of swings and misses," Nitzel said, "but I knew I had my defense behind me. The energy was high; we were looking forward to starting out with a win. We play (Post 227) a lot, and it's always a good time. They're a good team. We wanted to come out and do things right, and come out on top."
Nitzel's teammates gave him an early boost by scoring twice in the first. After singles by Noah Sebben (2-for-2, two runs) and Jacob Pauwels (2-for-4, two runs), a slow roller by Aiden Michna scored Sebben, and an error on the play enabled Pauwels to come in as well.
An inning later, two more East Moline errors led to four more runs for a 6-0 lead. The first of two sacrifice flies by Brody Harding and a two-out, two-run double by Michael Conner capped the outburst.
"We wanted to come out on the attack," Sebben said. "East Moline has been playing good baseball, so we knew we had to play good. We got good pitching by Jake, which set the pace; he was dealing today. Going up 6-0 was great, but we didn't want to stop there."
After East Moline (6-7) got on the board in the top of the third, Nitzel held the line from there. Moline tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth on RBIs by Harding and Conner.
"It didn't look like we showed up at the start, and they took advantage," said Post 227 coach Mike Meyers, who saw first baseman Tyler Runkle notch two of his team's four hits.
East Moline starting pitcher Noah Jansen (2-2) settled in after the first two innings, allowing just three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings of work.
Playing in Friday's finale, Moline's bid for a 2-0 Brunner start was denied by the Post 147 club from Crete, Nebraska, which held Post 246 to just two hits in a 5-0 victory.
Milan 7, Macomb 4: A quick start and a timely response to a Macomb rally boosted Milan Post 569 (16-5) to victory in its lone Brunner Invitational outing early Friday afternoon.
After Macomb (10-5-1) rallied from four runs down to tie the game, Post 569 broke that tie with a three-run fifth as Cade Sharp's RBI fielder's choice scored A.J. Hatlestad with the eventual winning run. Sharp drove in two runs, and Hatlestad went 4-for-4.
"You never know how you're going to come out and react," Sharp said. "We showed how well we can play and how well we can battle back. We have a lot of accomplished players back, and we have all the confidence in the world."
Buoyed by a pair of RBIs from starting pitcher Seth West, Milan led 4-0 after three innings, with a three-run third fueled by a Kyle Yeater RBI single and a Cade Sharp double that enabled Yeater to score all the way from first base.
Post 6 responded with three fourth-inning runs before tying the game at 4-4 on John Ogle's RBI single in the top of the fifth.
"I wasn't too thrilled with the way we got a little complacent after we got up 4-0," Milan coach Nick Basala said, "but we came back, strung some hits together and produced some runs. That's the sign of a mature team."