Ronnie Pugh isn’t just the coach of the Randolph County Post 45 baseball team. He’s also an enthusiastic supporter of the American Legion program throughout North Carolina.
So when a rival team from Rowan County won the Southeast Region championship last year, Pugh didn’t think twice about getting in his car and driving to Shelby to lend his support at the American Legion World Series.
It’s a trip he’d always hoped to make with his own players.
He’d come close in the past, winning three state titles in his 13 seasons with Post 45 and advancing to the regional final three times in the last four years. But each time, the team fell short of its goal.
That finally changed last weekend when Randolph County bulldozed its way through the Southeast Region tournament in Asheboro without losing a game. It was dominating performance punctuated by a 15-2 rout of Tallahassee, Fla., on Sunday that earned Pugh and his talented squad their first World Series trip.
Post 45 will join teams from Arkansas, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada and New Jersey in the double-elimination national championship tournament at Keeter Stadium in Shelby. Its opening game will be Thursday at 8 p.m. against Mid-Atlantic Region winner Hopewell, N.J. Post 339. The game will be televised on ESPN3.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of really good teams through the years,” Pugh said. “Our program has won four state championships. All the teams are different. Sometimes it’s all about timing and how the guys pull together and when they’re playing their best ball. This one just happened to be that group.”
This year’s team is made up of 18 high school age players from schools around Randolph County and its surrounding area. A majority of the roster is made up of returners from previous seasons who know all about the disappointment of coming so close to accomplishing their World Series goal.
And they weren’t about to take any chances this time.
After surviving close calls with a 5-4 win in its first meeting with Tallahassee on Friday and a 1-0 pitcher’s duel with Florence, S.C. in Saturday’s semifinal, Post 45 took care of business quickly and decisively in Sunday’s championship game.
Tournament MVP Trevor Marsh and third baseman Ryan Hill had three hits and three RBI each to lead an offensive assault that led the game to be shortened to seven innings by the “mercy rule.”
Randolph County broke the game open with a five-run fourth inning, then finished things off by scoring six more times in the seventh — a rally in which Hill had both a homer and a two-run double.
“We made the championship game a little anti-climatic,” Pugh said proudly. “We have a sophomore and a junior in the mix, but other than that we’re an older crowd and it usually takes that to win it.
“The kids have been playing well. They’ve worked hard all year and improved as the season went on. We seem to be just hitting our stride in the postseason.”
Post 45 got off to a fast start in the regional tournament by breaking open a close game in the late innings for a 10-4 victory against Troy, Ala., behind the pitching Hill and Cameron Reid, and three hits from Marsh.
Bobby Weary threw a complete-game five-hit shutout and Peyton Williams had three hits on Thursday to key a 4-0 victory against Covington, Ga. Randolph County then overcame three errors to hold of Tallahassee, as Nate Ray and Reid combined for six innings of relief before Chase Webb and Jaxon Snider blanked Florence in a tense Saturday semifinal Pugh called “one of the best baseball games I’ve seen.”
Cameron Morrison drove in the game’s only run with an RBI single in the fourth. Dawson Painter started the rally with a double.
Painter was the MVP of Post 45’s state tournament championship run. In the regional tournament, it was Marsh’s time to shine. A rising junior at Asheboro High, Marsh went 12 for 19 in five games with eight RBI and five runs scored.
“It’s just been a different guy or a different part of our lineup every game,” said Pugh, whose team has compiled a 38-8 record this summer. “This is a group that enjoys playing and enjoys being together and has stepped up to the challenge.”