Post 321 coach, players have high standards in 2011
by Staff Writer
Take one look at Huntersville Post 321’s American Legion baseball team when it’s warming up, and it’s possible to notice a resemblance to the New York Yankees.
Sure, the blue jerseys and pinstripe pants are a dead giveaway, but it’s the players’ confidence and talent that give the comparison life. Few Major League Baseball teams get opponents riled up as much as the Yankees, and in the Area IV Eastern Division, Post 321 tries to have the same effect on its foes.
Third-year Post 321 coach Trevin Smith boasts a team with more than just a tough look on the diamond. The squad has plenty of hitters, a pitching staff with little drop-off from first to fifth in the rotation, and a skilled group of catchers. It relieves Smith’s stress as a coach.
It also doesn’t hurt to have returning college stars such as former North Meck catcher Adam Venditti, now at Belmont-Abbey, and Mallard Creek-turned Long Island University third baseman Diego Perez.
This season, Post 321 isn’t just talking the talk, either.
Huntersville has won its first four games, including a 24-0 shellacking of Kings Mountain on May 30. Post 321 outscored its first four opponents – which also include Mint Hill Army, the Gaston Braves and Denver – by a combined score of 63-12.
In Smith’s opinion, expectations for success haven’t been higher since he first took the job, when Post 321 bore little resemblance to the Yankees or any other championship team.
“Now, we’re just trying to reap the rewards of some hard work by very dedicated ball players,” Smith said.
In 2010, Post 321 stormed through the regular season, captured the Area IV Eastern Division title for the first time in Smith’s tenure and finished the year with an 18-2 record before falling in the second round of the playoffs. With that experience under his players’ belts, Smith believes the sky’s the limit in 2011.
“I’ve got a lot of kids back, a lot of mature players, and we want to repeat the division title and win it all, too,” Smith said.
Maturity is an important asset to his team, he added. Huntersville’s players love to joke around every chance they get, and they’ll stay light-hearted until the first pitch.
But when the lights are on, anything less than a blowout win is a disappointment, no matter the opponent.
Post 321’s team is comprised of standouts from strong high school teams North Mecklenburg, Hough, SouthLake Christian, Mallard Creek and Hopewell. The players have selflessly accepted their roles, and Smith has high standards for them.
“I really expect this team to go undefeated. I don’t see us dropping a game to one team,” Smith said. “We only lost a couple last year, but we’re three times as good as last year because we’re more mature and experienced.”
In addition, Smith said the team’s depth at catcher is a strength that should cause opposing teams to pause before they challenge home plate or steal a base. Venditti and former Hopewell star and current Surry Community College catcher Daniel Whitecavage make up a formidable combination behind the plate.
Whitecavage finished his first year at Surry with a .397 batting average to go with a .976 fielding percentage. Smith believes the experience Whitecavage gets playing nine-inning Legion games will only make him a better college player.
“Daniel is a great player as far as catching and hitting,” Smith said. “I’ve also got a third catcher who did great at SouthLake in Sam Remick, who I can throw in there and give Daniel and Adam rest when they need it.”
Post 321 also has strong pitching, but Smith couldn’t (or wouldn’t) name his top two hurlers; he said he expects a number of pitchers to play key roles.
“Michael Boles, Hunter Conley, Tyler McCarthy, Justin Hammond, Ryan Ogden, Jared Fortune – I’ve got a ton of guys I can use out there any night,” Smith said. “And as far as hitting, all of them on the team (can do the job).”
While many Legion coaches face the challenge of keeping players focused for the duration of the summer season, Smith smiled and remarked that his biggest challenge will be taking the players as far as they can go in the playoffs. Smith said players can adapt to starting or coming in as backups, and he doesn’t expect resentment to grow within the team.
“These boys understand that when we get ahead by (big margins), I’ll be pulling some guys out and putting (other) guys in,” Smith said.
Smith added that Post 321 doesn’t try to run up the score on opponents. “But we’re going to put up runs. We’re here to win.”
The opportunity to get experience in Legion contests is a big reason Perez, who started 35 of 42 games for the Blackbirds and collected 12 RBIs, returned to play with Venditti, Whitecavage and the rest of Post 321’s assembly of talent.
Smith remarked that the trio of Perez, Venditti and Whitecavage will be the three key Huntersville players to watch all summer, but he’s excited to see what every player can bring to the table since the team is in “win-now” mode.
“You go down that list of players, and they’ve played on some good teams, but now they’re all on one ball team,” Smith said. “When you can get all these kids to come back for a summer and play on the same Legion team, that’s special.
“They all told me they wanted to come back. And they came back to win.”