Brian Strawn is setting the bar high in his first season as head coach of the American Legion team from Bellevue West.
The former Bellevue East standout has guided D.J.'s Dugout to a 25-13 mark this summer season. His squad is the top seed in the Area A-4 tournament that begins Thursday at Papillion's Fricke Field.
“We started off poorly, but we were able to turn it around,” Strawn said. “The credit goes to my players.”
Strawn's Thunderbirds were 10-15 during the spring varsity season, but his Legion team has bounced back after a 1-4 start. The team has gone 24-9 while defeating perennial powerful squads from Millard North, Omaha Westside and Omaha Creighton Prep.
“We've only got 12 guys on our roster this summer,” Strawn said. “After that slow start, we talked about how we all needed to pull together or this was going to be a long summer.”
The coach credits solid pitching and defense for the turnaround. D.J.'s Dugout also has hit the ball hard, with four players — first baseman Brad Brazeal, shortstop Zach Dibble, center fielder Jordan Kelly and catcher Mike Gilbert — all batting over .400.
“Six of our 12 guys are sophomores,” Strawn said. “That's looking good for the future, too.”
Strawn, who played for two years at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said he's proud of what his team has accomplished so far.
“They've done a great job,” he said. “And we don't want to stop now. We want to get to that state tournament.”
Heat could affect additional innings
The upcoming Class A Area tournaments will once again stretch out games from seven to nine innings, and P.I. Midwest coach Pat Mooney said the heat could be a factor.
“Two more innings doesn't sound like that much,” he said. “But when it's hot like this, there's definitely a difference.”
Mooney's squad is 35-6 and the top seed in the Area A-3 tournament at Omaha Skutt. But the coach said his team didn't play any nine-inning games in preparation for the Legion postseason.
“I didn't think we needed to do that,” he said. “We've got a pretty deep pitching staff and I think we'll be ready.”
P.I. Midwest finished its regular season with a 5-0 win Saturday over DiGiorgio's (Omaha Gross) in the annual Jayson Jewell Memorial game. Mooney estimated about 500 fans watched the game.
“Everything went smoothly,” Mooney said. “It's always a big game for us.”
P.I. Midwest's Cale Dineen was named the recipient of the $500 Jayson Jewell scholarship, and Taylor Elman was named the game's most valuable player.
Getting it done on the diamond
Some of the top Legion performances this past week:
Malik Sams, Four Aces Kwik Stop: He had three doubles and three triples as the team from Omaha Central went 2-2 in the Elkhorn Wood Bat tournament.
Conner Phillips, North Vikings: He struck out nine in a win over Lee's Summit, Mo.
Jake Barton, Medicine Man Pharmacy: He threw a complete game and struck out eight as the squad from Omaha Skutt beat Bloomington, Minn.
Adam Caniglia, Todd Hurt Construction: He went 5 for 6 as the team from Omaha Burke defeated Proctor, Minn.
Nick Hargis, Roof Tech: He picked up his sixth win of the summer as the team from Millard West defeated P.I. Midwest (Prep).
Sloan Mozena, Louisville: He tossed a five-hitter and struck out eight in a win over Syracuse.
— Mike Patterson