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Rainy weather has plagued the schedule, the rhythm, and sometimes, the performance of Mechanicsville Post 175 during the 2013 American Legion baseball season.
In spite of constant schedule changes, back-to-back days of doubleheaders, furiously trying to finish the regular season on time, the men of eastern Hanover managed to put together a 17-game winning streak, win the regular season title, then fight back from a loss that would break the back of most teams to win the District 11 Tournament to move on to their second straight appearance in the State Tournament.
In the midst of building yet another win streak and another comeback trail, Post 175’s season was not derailed by an opponent on the field, but in the most bizarre fashion, leaving players, coaches, and fans filled with questions while feeling completely hollow.
Call it Mother Nature, call it an “act of God” as contracts do, but it was heavy rain that brought Mechanicsville’s season to a sudden, jarring halt Thursday afternoon in Williamsburg.
To explain is best done by reviewing their journey in the tournament as a whole, which began Tuesday, July 30 with a 6-3 loss to Danville Post 325. Post 175 held the lead the entire game, up 3-1 into the ninth when Danville took advantage of three critical Mechanicsville errors to score five runs. Post 175 couldn’t respond in the bottom of the ninth and suddenly found themselves in the losers, or elimination, bracket.
Wednesday meant a matchup with the host team, Williamsburg Post 39. The 1 p.m. game became a marathon, tied at 3-3 after regulation, tied at 5-5 after both teams scored twice in the 12th, the arrival of rain as they tried valiantly to finish, both teams leaving runners in scoring position numerous times.
It came down to the bat of ODAC Rookie of the Year Mitch Keeler (Atlee/Randolph-Macon), whose double to the center field fence scored Patrick Holler in the top of the 16th. Cody Thompson finished two innings of relief to shut down and eliminate Williamsburg 6-5 in a 4 1/2 hour heavyweight fight.
Marring the victory was the ejection of pitcher/center fielder Michael Thomas, who started the game on the mound going six innings. In the ninth after a groundout, his verbal outburst sent him to the showers. Thomas would not appear on the roster the following day when Post 175 faced Roanoke Post 3, again, in an elimination game.
Roanoke broke a wet scoreless tie with three fourth-inning runs. All games that day had been shortened to seven innings in an attempt to get all four games in before any significant rainfall later in the day. Such was the hope.
By the top of the sixth, all Post 175 cared about was scoring four runs to take a lead and stay alive. Dalton Ruch reached on an infield single, followed by a Bryant Lowry single. After advancing to second and third, Luke Bolka roped a shot off the third baseman’s glove, reaching first to load the bases. Sean King popped out, but Cody Powers unloaded on a Ben Schmidt pitch, doubling to empty the bases to tie the game at 3-3. Powers advanced to third on the play at the plate on Bolka, and rolled into home plate, literally, on a single by Patrick Holler and 175 had the lead. They added two insurance runs and entered the bottom of the sixth up 6-3, six outs away from returning to play later in the day.
There wouldn’t be another pitch.
The heavens opened, for the third time that morning, a more prolonged downpour finally sent the teams into the dugouts. When it ended, puddles covered where the third baseman and second baseman would stand. Legion officials, 175 manager Eddie Gates, and volunteers from Williamsburg Post 89 took to the field in an attempt to restart the game, furiously raking and suctioning off the water.
More than two hours would go by. Some players left to get lunch as work progressed. Then, word began spreading through the crowd of the possibility that the game would be cancelled, and, more than that, in an attempt to get the State Tournament completed in time to submit paperwork for the winner to go to the Regional World Series, that the elimination bracket itself would be cancelled, and four teams sent home.
Shortly before 2 p.m., American Legion officials made the decision, informed both Gates and Roanoke manager Scott Smith, and phoned the coaches of Vienna Post 180 and Winchester Post 21. For Post 175 and three other teams, the season was done before a final out, before a second loss.
Players were dejected, coaches disappointed but understanding. Eliminating the elimination bracket has been part of the American Legion’s options to handle inclement weather situations at the state and regional tournaments, and World Series levels, according to Bob Netherland, American Legion Baseball chairman for Virginia.
In an interview with the Herald-Progress, Netherland explained how teams were aware of the rules prior to the start of the tournament and that several options were available, including seven-inning games and the elimination of the losers bracket.
“I have run 22 state tournaments, 14 regionals and have worked in three World Series. This has never happened to me before,” Netherland said. “Believe me, this was a very [tough] decision, but with no field and 24 hours of rain I just did not have a choice in order to get the tournament finished on time. Not one of the coaches said anything bad about my decision. They understood.”
Netherland also said he had only received one phone call and one email from fans with complaints about how the tournament was handled. The biggest confusion at the stadium stemmed from the fact that, although teams knew of contingency plans, fans, and the media, did not. So, when the decision became final, it made its season-ending effects extremely jarring, especially to some parents who had dedicated the past two months to practices and games.
Some also wondered why games could not be played in groups of four on Friday and Saturday to finish the full tournament. It was James City County that tied the Legion’s hands. The owners of Warhill Sports Complex, the site of the tourney, the county forbade any play from Thursday afternoon to Friday afternoon due to liability issues in case of injuries on a wet field. The tournament’s fate, and Post 175’s, was sealed.
Gates confirmed to the Herald-Progress that the rule had been in place for “many years” and the option was discussed prior to the tournament.
In the end, the disappointing end to Mechanicsville’s season should in no way erase their on-field accomplishments. Finishing at 23-5, winning 17 straight, claiming District 11 in both regular and postseason, should not be overshadowed by the bitter taste left by Aug. 1.