According to the old baseball adage, momentum only lasts as long as the next day’s starting pitcher. In the case of Randolph County Post 45, it was more of a week-to-week proposition.
One week, its staff of young arms carried the team to the Southeast Region title and a second straight trip to the American Legion World Series in Shelby. The next, those same pitchers weren’t able to get enough outs to avoid an early elimination from the national championship tournament.
Post 45’s chances of advancing to the knockout round ended quickly with losses to Midland, Mich., and Meridian, Idaho, in its first two games of pool play before salvaging a rain-delayed victory against Las Vegas in the early hours of Monday morning.
“That’s just baseball,” Randolph County coach Ronnie Pugh said. “We pitched so well in the region with basically four complete games out of our first four guys. This week, maybe you give credit to a little better hitting, but we didn’t hit our spots the way we had been. That’s going to happen. You’re not going to be picture-perfect every time you go out, but we stayed in there and battled.”
As it turned out, Post 45’s hopes of advancing deeper into the World Series than its semifinal showing a year ago were dashed by just two bad innings.
The first came on Thursday in its opening game against Michigan. With Randolph County ahead 2-0 and breezing along with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the fourth, starter Bryce Marsh suddenly lost his control after an error extended the inning.
He walked a batter and hit two more, including one with the bases loaded to allow the opposition to tie the game and seize the momentum. Michigan took the lead an inning later before breaking the game open with four runs in the sixth to pull away for an 8-2 victory.
On Saturday against Idaho, Post 45 was done in by a four-run third inning against starter Braxton Davis. Despite a comeback bid that included a home run by Tristan Marsh, Randolph County wasn’t able to completely dig its way out of the early hole on its way to a 6-4 defeat.
“We played decent games,” Pugh said. “We were competitive in all of them. We let the Michigan game get away from us, and we really felt like we should have won the second one (against Iowa). If that had happened, we’d have been right there still playing.”
As it is, the state team still had one more game left to play. Though mathematically improbable, it still had a chance to advance by way of a three-way tiebreaker, needing to outscore Las Vegas by 11 runs to make it happen.
The probability of that occurring got even slimmer after the Nevada team jumped out to a 6-2 lead after four innings.
But instead of going quietly into the rainy night — the game was delayed for nearly two hours by rain and lightning — Post 45 battled back to take the lead with a big inning of its own. The five-run fifth-inning rally started with two outs and included a double by Trevor Marsh, an RBI single by Spencer Lanier and five walks, including three straight with the bases loaded.
Randolph County added insurance runs in each of its final two at-bats to come away with a 10-6 victory that, according to Pugh was as meaningful as if it had been for the championship.
“We beat a good ballclub, with big strong kids,” the Post 45 coach said. “Over the whole thing, with what our kids accomplished this year, that was a little icing on the cake.”
Unlike last season, when Pugh brought a veteran team with realistic title hopes to the American Legion series, this year’s club was something of a surprise after having to replace more than half of its lineup and enduring a rash of injuries throughout the summer.
“The kids have been through a lot,” Pugh said. “But there was always somebody stepping up and filling the holes.”