Still in search of that elusive first victory, Ashland Post 206 will look back at their trip to Hanover Friday to face rival and District 11 leader Mechanicsville Post 175 wondering what might have been had their Achilles heel not reared its ugly head.
Slow starts have doomed the young 206 squad this American Legion baseball season. Against Post 175, it didn’t take a big inning to get just enough breathing room to survive a threat mounted mostly on the arm of Brett Whitlow.
Mechanicsville’s 3-2 win over Ashland came on two first-inning runs, and an eventual winning run in the third that almost never materialized. By then, Whitlow had found his groove, and Post 175 never threatened offensively again.
Haiden Lamb led off the game with a bunt single to third, the defending state track champion in the 100-meter dash flying down the basepath. Lamb would steal both second and third base, then come home on a sacrifice fly by the next batter, Josh Shepherd.
Christian Buckler and Trevor Denton next roped back-to-back doubles. It was quickly 2-0 and Whitlow was in danger of another rough start, having fallen behind quickly in his first 206 outing against Powhatan Post 201. But he retired Cody Thompson on a flyout, then struck out Cody Powers to end the top of the first.
It would be the first of 10 Whitlow strikeouts on the night.
“After that stretch, I just started pitching my game,” Whitlow explained. “I cleared my mind and threw the ball 60 feet.”
In the third, Denton reached base with two out on an error by Cole Potridge on a ground ball to third. Whitlow caught Denton on the basepaths trying to steal, causing a rundown, but a defensive breakdown allowed Denton to crawl back to first to live another day. Thompson singled to advance Denton to third. Then, during Powers’ at-bat, Post 175 executed the double steal, and Denton came home with the most important run of the night.
The rest of the way, it was all Whitlow. He struck out two and picked off Anthony Zona at first in the fourth, then struck out the side in the fifth. Two nice plays by Troy Fiorillo at short and another K ended the 175 sixth. Pitching and defense had given Post 206 a chance.
For their offensive cause, 206 didn’t get a hit off 175 starter Josh Lam until the fifth when Conal Cavanaugh led off with a single. Cameron Stanley doubled off the center field wall when the ball caromed off Lamb’s glove as he ran to make the catch.
Runners were at second and third when Christian Trayer blooped a single into left. Cavanaugh tried to score but the throw from Zona to catcher Roy Coates was perfect, and Cavanaugh was cut down.
Cavanaugh walked in the seventh, but on a single to right by Trayer on a hit and run, he was thrown out trying to reach third on another bullet, this time from Powers, ending the inning.
Post 206 finally scored in the eighth off Shepherd, the third of four 175 pitchers on the night. Potridge launched a bloop single down the right field line, followed by Hunter McKinney’s single to left. One out later, a Shepherd balk sent runners to second and third, then a wild pitch brought Potridge home. Whitlow grounded out to second to send McKinney home. It was 3-2.
But in the ninth, closer Denton shut the door, despite allowing a one-out double to Cavanaugh. Stanley flew out to deep left and Trayer struck out to end the game.
Post 175 head coach Bobby White was happy with the victory, but knew just how lucky his team was to earn it.
“Give all the credit to Brett Whitlow,” he said. “He kept us off-balance all night.”
While there are no moral victories in printed standings, Post 206 left their rival’s field knowing continued steps in the right direction would finally lead to victory number one.
It wouldn’t come over the weekend, however.
Post 206 fell Saturday on College Day at James River High School to the Colonial Heights Post 284 Pirates 22-12, then to the Post 284 Buccaneers Sunday. Their bid for a win continues Saturday night at 7 p.m. when they host Powhatan Post 201.