When the American Legion District 11 baseball schedule for this year came out a few weeks back, Ashland Post 206 was nowhere to be found. There were rumors Post 206 would join Glen Allen Post 244 on the sidelines, Post 244 having not fielded a team in 2012.
But a faithful group of young men were determined to keep Post 206 on the field, and they succeeded, with one major change: Ashland will spend 2013 battling teams from the likes of Fluvanna, Spotsylvania, King George, and, their first 2013 opponent, Charlottesville/Albemarle Post 74. Post 206 became members of Legion District 13, leaving District 11 behind, and they say they’re ready for the new challenges.
“I think it’s refreshing to see that we’re getting to play some new teams,” Post 206 manager Scott Woody said. “We like playing teams out of our local district, but if you look at our schedule, we’re playing up to Charlottesville. These kids, they don’t care who they play. They just come out here to play baseball.”
After two rain postponements, Post 206 finally made their 2013 debut June 11 against the 2012 state runner-up, Post 74. They happen to be the team that ended Mechanicsville Post 175’s magical season at 25-2 in the state semifinals.
Post 74 hit Post 206 pitching hard early, scoring a run in the first and second, then two each in the fourth and fifth innings to build a 6-0 lead. Catcher Connor Lilley, center fielder Jack Morris and shortstop Jordan Gentry each scored two runs.
Both teams emptied the bullpens as each squad used five pitchers, partly due to offensive spurts by both teams, and also to give coaches a chance to look at the bulk of their staffs early on as they try to set up rotations and other strategies. By the time it all unfolded, Post 206 fell short in a respectable showing, losing 10-6.
The highlight of the night for Post 206 was, when down 6-0, they mounted a two-stage comeback, scoring two runs in both the fifth and seventh innings. Nathan Steele led off the fifth being hit by a pitch. The next batter, Joe Buerhen, reached on an error by the Post 74 second baseman allowing Steele to fly over to third. With one out, Chris Estep singled to score Steele, then Hunter West singled, also into left, scoring Buerhen.
Post 74 left the bases loaded in the sixth and went down in order in the seventh. In the bottom of the frame, Post 206 struck again with West reaching safely on an error by shortstop Gentry. After an infield bunt single and walk to load the bases, Cody Crawley sliced a single to left field to score West and Richardson, cutting the lead to 6-4. Steele fouled out to left stranding a pair of runners, but the deficit was down to two.
Post 74 threatened again in the eighth, loading the bases once more with one out, only to come up with two groundouts to keep them scoreless. In reply, 206 had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn’t convert.
Where Post 74 separated from their opponent, showing shades of their state championship level performance of a year ago, was when they broke open for four runs in the top of the ninth creating a major six-run cushion where once the lead was two. Three hits, a hit batter, error and sacrifice fly did the trick.
Credit goes to 206 for playing scrappy, never-say-die baseball in the ninth, managing two runs, one on a wacky play. Starling was on third when Will Strong popped up into shallow left field. The left fielder, Lonnie Dillard, misplaced the ball, dropping it, prompting Starling to take off for him. But Starling misjudged how close Dillard was to the plate, and he fired to home before Starling was 45 feet down the line.
The classic rundown play ensued and, as Starling dove into third base, the catcher’s throw to the man covering for Post 74 was high, causing him to jump in the air and a collision ensued. The umpire awarded the base to Starling on an obstruction ruling and it was 10-5. Crawley’s single to right scored Strong for the final run.
For a team whose season was in doubt some weeks back and has only practiced in the past week or so, dodging bad weather like the rest of us, Tuesday’s first test against such a storied program showed Woody many things he can use to his advantage as the season gets rolling in earnest.
“These kids just want to play baseball. They already understand what they need to be doing. We are here to facilitate them, give them direction, then let them go,” Woody explained. “They’re very excited to play, and though none of us like to lose, after tonight they are still loose, still ready. I’m excited. We have a lot of potential.”
With former Patrick Henry standouts like Cody Crawley (Randolph-Macon), Joe Bugas (VCU), Nathan Steele and Andrew Strong combined with returning Patriot Tyler Starling and some new, younger talent on the roster, Post 206 returns a hearty nucleus from a team that, admittedly, had a disappointing 2012 season.
Now, with a new coach, an infusion of new talent, a possibly deep pitching pool, and the ability to get offense out of every position on the lineup card, Post 206 should prove formidable to their new opponents as they begin a new era in District 11, getting to know I-64, I-95, and Routes 301 and 208 very well.
NOTE: Get the entire 2013 American Legion Post 206 season schedule online at HanoverCountySports.org.