Post 321’s approach: Win nine, and all is fine
by Staff Writer
Nine victories is the short-term goal.
After that, well, it’s not prudent to think that far ahead for Huntersville American Legion Post 321’s baseball team.
The team was scheduled to open the Area IV best-of-five series on June 29 against Burke County Post 21 at North Mecklenburg High.
“We’ve just got to win ball games,” Post 321 coach Trevin Smith said. “Win nine, and we’re in the state final. We have to persevere, be mentally tough and get through it.”
Post 321 was dominant in the regular season, with a slight bump at the end. The team won its first 19 games before losing the finale, 9-8, to Queen City Mustangs on June 25.
Post 321 (19-1) won the Eastern Division and earned the top seed in the Area IV playoffs, which includes 16 teams.
The original postseason opener, scheduled for June 28 at North Mecklenburg, was rained out, forcing the series to start a day later.
Game 2 is slated to be played at Shuey Field in Morganton on Thursday, June 30, and Game 3 will be Friday, July 1, at North Mecklenburg. If necessary, Game 4 will be Saturday, July 2, in Morganton, and Game 5 will be Sunday, July 3, at North Mecklenburg. All games are at 7 p.m.
The nine victories Post 321 craves would come by winning the necessary three in a best-of-five format in the first three rounds of the playoffs. The Area IV final will be a best-of-three series, and both of the finalists qualify for the state tournament July 22-26 in Morehead City.
Post 321’s standout regular season was fueled by offense. It averaged 12 runs per game and 10 times scored in double figures. The lowest scoring game was a 5-3 victory against the Gaston Braves on June 18.
Most of the other victories had a consistent lopsided quality, with eight coming by 10 or more runs.
“We are pretty solid throughout the lineup,” said Smith, in his third year coaching the squad. “We have a lot of power and hit the baseball really hard. We’ve got pretty good speed, too. Everybody’s been hitting. Everybody.”
Post 321 is comprised of players from North Mecklenburg, Hopewell, Mallard Creek, Hough and SouthLake Christian. Three players who recently finished their freshman seasons in college have been solid contributors, too – outfielder Daniel Whitecavage (Surry Community College), third baseman Diego Perez (Long Island University) and Adam Venditti (Belmont Abbey).
Shortstop Michael Russell (Hopewell) and second baseman Mikal Hill (Mallard Creek), who both signed with major Division I colleges, anchor the infield defense. Russell is headed to North Carolina and Hill to South Carolina.
Russell had a streak of hitting a home run in eight consecutive games during the regular season. Jared Fortune, an infielder/pitcher from SouthLake Christian, also has provided power in the middle of the lineup. Hunter Conley (Hopewell) has been an effective pitcher.
Smith said he’s concerned that Post 321 has allowed more runs than he’d like the past few games. It doesn’t stand out as much when the team’s slamming 12 or 14 runs, but Smith knows the competition will get tougher.
Post 321 has allowed eight, five, eight and six runs, respectively, the past four games.
“We’ve been giving up runs, probably too many, and you can’t do that in the playoffs,” Smith said. “Defensively we’re a lot better than we were last year. Our pitching is OK; we’ve got a lot of pitchers, so there’s some depth there. They’re all very good, but we don’t have an outstanding pitcher that’s going to go out there and shut somebody down by throwing 90 miles per hour. Our guys are smart, and they throw well.”
Burke County Post 21 was 8-10 in the regular season and is the No. 8 seed from the Western Division. The winner of the Post 321/Burke County series will advance to play the winner of the series between the Gaston Braves (11-9) and Hickory (10-7).
“In the playoffs, it’s a mental thing,” Smith said. “You’re playing every night. Physically, we can match up against anyone in the state. At this point, it’s about if they’re mentally prepared.”
The ultimate payoff for Post 321 would be a trip not too far from home. The American Legion World Series is Aug. 12-16 in Shelby.