MILAN — Last summer, the Milan Legion Post 569 baseball team blazed new postseason trails.
Coach Nick Basala's club capped a 19-9 season by winning its first 3rd Division Tournament title, reeling off five straight wins to do so, and advancing to its first Legion State Tournament.
A late-season springboard to Post 569's postseason success was a 3-2 showing at last July's Leo Brunner Invitational, which earned it a tie for second place with tournament host Moline and Macomb.
"Anytime you get into a competitive tourney situation like that, that can really help the guys propel their year," said Basala, whose 15-5 club opens up Brunner play this morning at 11 against Macomb before playing two games both Saturday and Sunday. "You start to get into the dog days of summer and get toward a postseason run, so seeing competition like that in elimination games, that turns the guys on focus-wise."
Adding to Milan's focus was a trip to Omaha for the Battle of the Bases tournament from June 20-23. In Nebraska, Post 569 snapped out of a three-game losing streak to go 3-2, eventually falling in the semifinal round.
Prior to its three-game skid, Milan had carried over the momentum from last summer's state run in the form of an 8-0 start.
"We were kind of laying an egg when we went out there; we were not playing our best baseball," said Basala. "We got to relax a bit, not knowing any of the teams there or knowing what to expect. We could only do the things that were under our control.
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"When we got home, we were playing better ball. I hope we can keep doing that going forward."
In terms of the local Legion competition that will also be at Moline High School's Holmgren Field this weekend, Post 569 has split two meetings with Rock Island, both games ending in 3-1 decisions. It has beaten Moline, and lost its only meeting with East Moline.
On the mound, the duo of Sherrard graduate A.J. Hatlestad, who finished his freshman season at Monmouth College, and Mercer County's Jeff Garrett (a future Fighting Scot) have set the place for Milan, with Hatlestad doing the same at the plate in the cleanup role.
Basala, the former MerCo head coach, also cited another of his former Golden Eagles, Jaden Dellitt, as well as Rockridge graduate Justin Bost as the other anchors in the batting order. Dellitt finished his freshman year at Augustana, with Bost playing alongside Hatlestad at Monmouth.
"I think it's been a bit of having the group back together again," he said. "We know what we can do, now it's about going and doing it again. The guys picked up where they left off, but we had to be humbled a bit. We had to learn to get back to our winning ways."
He hopes those winning ways can continue with a championship run this weekend, but he knows that will be a tall order.
"This will be a good opportunity for us, to play two different teams we don't normally get to play (Wheaton and Crete, Neb.), plus compete with guys we know," Basala said. "It'll be a good weekend of baseball all around."