Randolph Co. team returns to American Legion World Series

Randolph County Post 45 pitcher Bryce Marsh delivers to the plate during the 2018 American Legion World Series in Shelby.(Lucas Carter/The American Legion)

Randolph County Post 45 won’t officially be the host team for the upcoming American Legion World Series in Shelby, as it was at the Mid-Atlantic Region tournament last week in Asheboro.

But it might as well be.

Coach Ronnie Pugh’s team will be making its third straight trip to the national championship baseball event for players 19 years old and younger. Post 45 is the only team making a return appearance from a year ago.

It’s an experience Pugh hopes will give his players an advantage as they look to take the next step by bringing home the championship that has eluded them in their first two World Series opportunities.

“Their confidence level after being in a World Series goes way up,” said Pugh, who also serves as an assistant coach for the Catawba team that played in the Division II College World Series in June. “The game doesn’t know it’s a big game, it’s what the participants make out of it and handle it.

“It certainly can’t hurt just knowing the routine, where we were and the scheduling. Hopefully we can build on that.”

Nine players on Post 45’s current roster were also on the 2018 World Series team. Three members — catcher Austin Curry, center fielder/pitcher Trevor Marsh and shortstop/pitcher Braxton Davis — are making their third trip to the Legion final at Keeter Stadium.

That veteran presence has already paid dividends this summer, helping the team battle back through the losers bracket to win four straight elimination games on the way to last week’s region crown.

Post 45 lost its second game of the tournament, leaving 11 men on base in a 6-2 loss to Vienna, Va., Post 180. The Randolph County team eventually turned the tables on the Virginia state champs by beating them twice in Sunday’s final round, but not before it survived a wild 7-5 shootout against Morgantown, WVa., Post 2 on Saturday that left it dangerously thin on the mound.

Marsh, the MVP of Post 45’s 2017 regional victory who is headed to UNC Wilmington, helped the pitching situation considerably by throwing a two-hit 3-0 shutout in Sunday’s first game. It was the first time in 98 games that Post 180 had been held scoreless.

Davis then followed by giving up just three hits over six strong innings. When he tired in the seventh, Marsh’s younger brother Tatum came on to earn the save in a 3-2 victory. Despite having pitched only eight innings all summer, Tatum Marsh — a sophomore at Asheboro High School — calmly got the final out of the tournament with the tying run on third and the winning run at first.

“This group is about as even-keeled as any group I’ve ever coached,” Pugh said. “You really can’t tell what day of the week it is, how many days of the week we’ve played, who we’re playing or what we’re playing for. They just come out and go to work and 37 wins later and a trip to the World Series, it’s paid off for us.”

Post 45 (37-10) is a team comprised of players that live in and around the Asheboro area. It will begin pool play at the Legion World Series on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. against Shrewsbury, Mass., Post 397. Each team will play at least three games before the semifinals and finals next Monday and Tuesday.

The other teams in the field are Fargo, N.D., Post 2 and Idaho Falls, Idaho, Post 56, which are also in Randolph County’s pool, along with Destrehan, La., Post 366, Festus, Mo., Post 253 and Danville, Ill., Post 210.

All games in the tournament will be televised live nationally on either ESPNU or ESPN News.

Post 45 advanced to the semifinals in the 2017 World Series before going 1-2 in pool play last year. Pugh said he likes his team’s chances in this year’s event.

“We got some key hits and then on Sunday (at the regionals) we go two great pitching performances with no bullpen,” Pugh said. “Sometimes things have a way of evening out. I’d like to think we take the approach that we’ve got a chance to win every time we go out on the field, it’s just a matter of who steps up.”