Thursday, July 16, 2009

Crazy stuff happens in Legion playoffs

What is it about game 3 of an American Legion baseball playoff series?

On Wednesday night, Wilson Post 13 was humbled 32-5 by Rocky Mount Post 58 in game 3 of their Area One Eastern Division championship series. It was a very uncharacteristic (and historical) loss for Post 13, which still has the upper hand after winning the first two games of the series. No one, including Post 13 General Manager Bob Walston in his 24th season with the program, can remember such a brutal loss for Wilson.

Rocky Mount possesses a powerful offense, averaging double-digit scoring in its regular-season home games. But Wednesday night was ridiculous. Post 58 swatted five home runs, including three by right fielder T.J. Taylor who ended up with eight RBIs. Catcher Ben Fish, an all-state player at Rocky Mount High and headed to Division I Elon University on a scholarship, cracked the other two longballs and had seven RBIs. You'd expect that output from Fish and some of the other Post 58 heavy hitters.

"Yeah, but not from me," Taylor said after the game.

Granted some, if not most, of those homers (including Wilson third baseman Mitchell Wheeler's solo shot in the second) probably would have not left Fleming Stadium. But in the cozy confines of Northern Nash High School's field, they ended up in the pine trees hugging the outfield fence.

It was just that kind of night for Rocky Mount, who looked better at the plate than most teams do in batting practice. Wilson starter Richard Carr, who has been solid in a relief role all season, struggled with control early and then Post 58 made him pay for his later accurate deliveries. Wilson head coach Rusty Dail sent Alex Howard, Michael McLawhorn and Tripp Sauls to the mound but each ended up giving up at least one run.

The craziness of the night made me recall another game 3 in which Post 13 was involved three years ago during the second round of the playoffs. Under a bulging full moon on the Fike diamond, Wilson dropped a 27-21 decision to Edenton Post 40 and I was there for every pitch. I was there for every pitch Wednesday night but I have to admit that during the 40-minute bottom of the third, I was tempted to drive back to Wilson to catch a little of the Tobs game.

But for all those runs, the scoreboard will read 0-0 at the beginning of Thursday's game 4 in Fleming Stadium. With Wilson sending No. 1 starter Justin Nygard (and No. 2 Bentley Massey ready for game 5 if necessary) to the mound, I still think Post 13 is in the driver's seat.

However, the winner of this series won't be guaranteed a spot in the state tournament. In the past, the winner of the Eastern and Western Divisions met for a purely ceremonial best-of-5 series since the top two teams from each of the four areas advanced to the state tournament. Not so for Area One this season which has an automatic bid going to Pitt County Post 39 for being the state tournament host.

So Wilson will have to win one more series, against either Cary Post 67 or Durham Post 7, to claim the Area One title and land in the state tournament for the first time since the N.C. American Legion went to that format. And Post 13 will have to do it without the services of its leading hitter, David Gibbons, who is currently on a cruise ship. The trip was a graduation present, apparently, and booked well before the season began.

I wonder if David is wishing he were back here for the rest of the series but I can't blame him. After all, I doubt there are many folks who predicted Post 13 would still be playing this late in the summer.

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