By ROB WITHAM
H-P Sports Correspondent
A late sunset, late-inning heroics, and a late ending. That scenario can only mean one thing. It’s American Legion baseball season.
The 2017 version of Mechanicsville Post 175 consists of young men who play for the love of the game, and in typical 175 fashion, don’t give up until the final out is made. That scrappy attitude paid off in their season opener at Lee-Davis High School last Thursday night when, down three runs in the bottom of the ninth to rival West End Post 361, Mechanicsville manufactured one run, then watched first baseman Trey Karnes slam a ball deep into the night for a game-tying two-run home run to force extra innings at 5-5.
Two innings later, Post 175 loaded the bases, and third baseman Canon Lambert gladly absorbed a pitch that hit his back, allowing the winning run to trot home for a 6-5 victory to move to 1-0 on the season.
“In high school games, a seven-inning game, you go down 5-2, that’s a bigger hill to climb,” said new Mechanicsville head coach Brandon Powers. “In nine innings, it’s stay to the process, just keep having good at-bats. There’s six extra outs, we’ll be fine.”
There would have been plenty of reason to panic after West End’s Matt Spagnolo hammered a three-run home run in the top of the fifth to give Post 361 a 4-1 lead. Post 175 had left the bases loaded in the previous frame, and the big Spagnolo shot began a period where it just looked like things would not go Mechanicsville’s way.
Post 175 stranded Karnes in the fifth, who singled, then couldn’t get a baserunner in the sixth. Post 361 added what ended up being a huge run, scoring Spagnolo again thanks to a double for a 5-1 lead in the top of the seventh.
Mechanicsville answered with a run in their half of the seventh, Karnes earning an RBI on a groundout that scored Hunter Hart from third base. Things were quiet until Post 175 battled back in the ninth, highlighted by Karnes’ game-tying bomb on the first pitch of his at-bat with two outs.
“I faced that pitcher two times before, and I knew what he coming with on the first pitch,” Karnes noted. “I try to clear my mind, and I was going full at it first pitch, and I guess I got all of it. It was electric.”
“When their backs are against the wall, they are coming out fighting,” Powers added. “That’s going to help come playoff time, remembering, hey, we just had an eleven-inning game at the beginning of the season.”
Carson Box and Bryan Diehr were strong in relief for Post 175, keeping Post 361 from scoring after the seventh, setting the stage for the game-winner in the eleventh on the hit by pitch.
With several players celebrating recent high school graduation this past week, Post 175 isn’t scheduled to play again until Saturday, when they head to Hermitage High School for a rematch with West End. The game begins a crazy stretch of thirteen games in eighteen days for Post 175, a schedule that is expected in American Legion play, but still can be brutal given the weather and the grind.
And, when they meet again, Post 361 will look for a measure of revenge. Since 2012, Mechanicsville (4) and West End (1) have been the only teams to win the American Legion District 11 Championship. Both will be in the mix again when the district tournament opens on July 15th.