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There is no middle ground, no laissez-faire when it comes to Mechanicsville Post 175 American Legion baseball. The highs represent titles, the lows despair in dramatic ways. When the week drew to a close some 50 miles from where it began, a district champion hung precariously close to season elimination.
July 24: District 11 Final Game 1
A few years from now, a thousand people will swear they were at L.C. Bird High School in Chester the night of the “14-13” game. For the hundred or so gathered that night, it went down as one of the most exciting baseball games of their lifetimes. This is not an exaggeration.
Few expected Post 175 to have problems disposing of Lakeside Post 125, having swept them in a doubleheader one week earlier by a combined score of 25-4. But a different Post 125 team awaited Mechanicsville, and it took them just a half-inning to make the statement they belonged in the district final.
Lakeside took a 5-0 lead, powered by Randy Neisz’s three-run homer, and quicker than you can recite the Legion oath heard before every game, Post 175 had a mountain to climb. They loaded the bases in the second, but failed to score. They broke through an inning later, as Sean King and Michael Thomas scored, King after stealing third when the catcher’s throw sailed into left field, Thomas on Luke Bolka’s single.
This only seemed to fuel Post 125, as Randy Neisz struck again, hitting another three-run home run to extend Lakeside’s lead to 8-2 in the top of the fourth. After Cody Powers’s double and run scored on a Dalton Ruch single,175 loaded the bases in response but couldn’t score again. Powers returned to help the cause an inning later as, ironically, his blast to left went off Neisz’s glove at the wall for a solo home run to make it 8-4.
Reliever Patrick Holler entered in the sixth, cooling off Lakeside for two innings, striking out four. Then, in the bottom of the seventh, Post 175 mounted their first comeback. After a Thomas single, Bryant Lowry slammed a two-run homer down the right field line. Mitch Keeler singled, stole second and scored on Josh Shepherd’s single to cut the lead to one. Powers, who had walked just before Shepherd’s single, came home on a wild pitch to tie the game at 8-8. Briefly, it seemed Post 175 was gaining control.
Lakeside counterpunched, scoring three runs in the eighth on three singles, a 175 error and a wild pitch from Bolka, who replaced Holler three batters into the frame. Post 125 led again, 11-8. Post 175 answered, as Ruch greeted Lakeside reliever Royce Woolfolk with a triple to center. He scored on Lowry’s one-out sacrifice fly, and after eight innings, Lakeside led 11-9.
Anthony Zona took the ball, and was greeted by Micah Gorman, who sent the ball over the left field wall into the Chester night for a 12-9 Lakeside lead. Mechanicsville needed three to tie. Back-to-back walks to Keeler and Powers started the frame. A wild pitch advanced each a base. Shepherd popped out, then pinch hitter Evan Swecker launched a double to center, scoring Keeler and Powers. It was 12-11. Ian Drennan came in to pitch for Lakeside. His wild pitch during Sean King’s at-bat sent Swecker to third. King grounded out.
Ruch, in the last chance for Mechanicsville, sent a single up the middle to score Swecker, and 175 had tied the game again, 12-12. Thomas doubled, Lowry was intentionally walked to load the bases. Zona batted, but swung at a high heater on what would have been a winning ball four to strike out, leave three stranded, and send the game into extra innings.
Lakeside loaded the bases in the 10th for Woolfolk, who sent a grounder up the middle. Ruch, from shortstop, gloved the ball, then whipped around and threw the ball home so Keeler could tag out Robert Murphy for the third out. Woolfolk’s infield single scored Jordan Schmeer before the play on Murphy. Lakeside led 13-12.
On the first pitch of the bottom of the 10th, Keeler launched a homer to left, and for the third time, Post 175 had come back to tie the game. A fly to right by Powers was dropped by Sam Griffin, and Powers landed safe at second. Shepherd bunted to sacrifice Powers to third. After pinch-hitter Tyler Carter flew out to right, Sean King launched a rocket deep to right-center. Inexplicably, Griffin leapt high near the wall and snagged the ball to strand Powers at third. Two innings in a row, the winning run was 90 feet away, but came no closer.
In the 11th, two singles and a walk loaded the bases on Thomas, in his second inning of relief. Porter Reinhart grounded out to second, driving home a run for a 14-13 lead. Thomas doubled with one out, and advanced to third. A Lowry pop up to short was not caught, but Lowry was called out on an interference call, the umpire stating a 175 player shouted at Charlie Yorgen as the ball was in the air.
It was left to Keeler, who flew to right. Griffin, fittingly, ended the amazing game with the catch, and Lakeside forced a winner-take-all championship game on Thursday.
July 25: District 11 Championship
Bolka was handed the ball and he responded. In 6 2/3 innings, Bolka allowed just one run on four hits, striking out 10, including the side in the second.
Bolka helped his own cause on offense, slamming a two-run homer in the second, and on defense when, in the third with the bases loaded, he unloaded a wild pitch, then raced to cover home. Keeler retrieved the ball, and Bolka tagged out Sam Cox to end the inning.
Post 175 made it 3-0 in the fourth as Keeler walked, and later scored on a Justin Bishop single. Lakeside responded with one in the sixth, left the bases loaded in the seventh, and made it 3-2 in the eighth on a Woolfolk home run. After a Wesley Steelman walk came the play of the game.
Yorgen launched a double in the right-center field gap. Bolka, who moved to right field after being replaced on the mound, fell just short of the catch, grabbed the ball at the fence, and threw it to second baseman King, who threw a bullet to home plate. Steelman was out by four steps.
“When pitching, you get tired,” Bolka said. “I thought I had it, but my knee buckled. We made a good relay play. When [King] caught the ball, the runner was rounding third. He just had to throw a strike to home.”
Lakeside put two on in the ninth on a hit batsman and a walk by reliever Swecker. But when Gorman popped out to Keeler at first for the final out, fans of Post 175 simultaneously celebrated and breathed a gigantic sigh of relief.
Over two nights, the teams had played to a composite 16-16 tie. But Post 175 won when it mattered most, capturing a second straight District 11 Tournament title and berth in the state championships.
“Great effort,” exclaimed manager Eddie Gates when asked about Bolka’s work. “His curve ball was working, and he got several of the big hitters with the curve. That’s big. When it’s working, it makes his fastball seem even faster, and I think he was averaging anywhere from 88 to 93 [mph].”
Post 175 left Chester, preparing for state play in Williamsburg, at 22-4. They are a combined 44-4 in District 11 play in the past two seasons.
Mechanicsville Post 175 suffered a defensive meltdown under the hot sun Tuesday afternoon, losing a two-run lead in the ninth inning en route to a 6-3 loss to District 10 champion Danville Post 325 in the first round of the American Legion State Baseball Tournament in Williamsburg.
Mechanicsville scored two runs in the first inning as Sean King walked, stole second, then scored on a Michael Thomas single. Thomas advanced to third on a hit-and-run single by Bryant Lowry, and scored later on a wild pitch by Danville pitcher Luke Simpson.
Post 175 starter Luke Bolka pitched six innings, striking out 11, allowing just a run. Thomas scored again in the fifth on a Bolka single for a 3-1 lead. Evan Swecker held Danville at bay in the seventh and eighth, but Post 325 mounted a comeback in the ninth.
Their success was earned (three singles and a double) and given, as 175 committed three critically-timed throwing errors. A Dalton Ruch error throwing for a force out went wide and a Swecker throw to first sailed into foul ground in right field, allowing two runs to score and Danville to take the lead for good. By the time the implosion was over, Danville led by three.
Thomas got on base in the ninth with a single, stealing second and advancing to third on an error. But Thomas was tagged out at home when trying to score after a fly out to center by Lowry to end the game.
Post 175 fell to 22-5 and into the elimination bracket, facing Vienna in an attempt to stay alive in the tournament Wednesday (after presstime). Look for results of that game on our Twitter and Facebook pages.