Team keeps players crisp

Published 9:10 pm Friday, June 8, 2012

Nansemond Post 88’s Ryan Stalnaker pitches against Post 280 Smith on Thursday at Nansemond River High School. First baseman Shane McCaw stands at the ready in the background.

By Titus Mohler
Correspondent

The American Legion Baseball summer league was in full swing on Thursday night as Post 280 Smith won 12-6 in a wild game against the Nansemond Post 88 Indians at Nansemond River High School.

Entering the fourth inning, the Indians seemed to be headed for a blowout win, leading 5-0. They were led by strong defensive play from pitcher Ryan Stalnaker and in the bottom of the third, they tallied seven base hits and drove in four runs.

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But then the top of the fourth brought a massive momentum shift. Three Smith runners scored, and with only one out, Stalnaker walked a batter to load the bases.

Nansemond Post 88’s Chris Henderson hits a bunt single against Post 280 Smith.

“We’ve had a little trouble with the pitchers getting a few walks and getting runners on base,” Post 88 head coach Jerry Kent said.

The Indians made a pitching change, but Shane McCaw struggled as well, walking the next two batters to even the score at 5-5. Then, McCaw got a strikeout and Chris Henderson made a catch to finally end the inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Indians re-took the lead, 6-5, on a Ryan Hathaway single that drove Nick Lees home. The Indians switched to Andrew Hansinger at pitcher in the sixth, but Smith managed to score three more runs and four more in the seventh to arrive at the game’s final score.

“I think once they gel as a team, I think we’ll be just fine,” Kent said. “We still haven’t had the full squad together. (We’ve) been practicing, so hopefully we’ll have that pretty soon.”

Post 88, entering its fourth year, includes athletes from King’s Fork, Lakeland, Nansemond River and First Baptist Christian schools. Lakeland’s spring sports banquet and other travel ball scheduling conflicts, as well as Nansemond River’s state championship bid, prevented full representation for the Indians, including several of the team’s top players.

“I have a pretty high expectation for the team. I know the Post does too,” Kent said. “I think last year they were 6-8, so we want to do anything we can to improve on that. We still have a pretty young team. We have anywhere from our youngest being 13 and our oldest — we have one 17-year-old — but we have a lot in between there.”

The American Legion league offers a unique opportunity for junior high and high school-age athletes.

“We’d like to be the summer choice for kids that either can’t afford or don’t want to play in the travel ball kind of schedules that you run into,” Kent said.

While showcase and travel ball organizations play all over the state and oftentimes out-of-state, AL plays nearly all of its games using the local fields of high schools in the Southeastern and Beach districts.

“So it gives them that option at a pretty low entry fee; it’s only a hundred bucks,” Kent said. “And you don’t have to travel more than an hour to go to our games. I think that’s a plus for a lot of the kids.”

Post 88, in particular, has been no stranger to success in the league. Kent mentioned that the group of players that drove Nansemond River to the state tournament this year was responsible for winning the Indians an AL state championship in 2009.

“I don’t think the Post has high expectations like that this year, but we sure would like to build it back up,” Kent said.

Interest was high enough that Post 88 almost fielded two teams.

“We had close to 30 kids come out if you look at the full time-frame that we had for tryouts and then several people contacting us after,” Kent said. “It just got too late, though. We didn’t have time to be able to put two squads together.”

Despite that interest, the abundance of summer baseball opportunities means that AL will have to work hard in advertising its distinct benefits to establish itself locally.

“American Legion ball’s been around a long time and prior to the travel clubs and the showcase teams, it was the league of choice when I was a kid,” Kent said. “So, hopefully, we can get it that way out here in Suffolk.”

Post 88’s next game is scheduled for Tuesday at 6 p.m. against Post 327 at Lakewood Park.