Post 284 Pirates Capture Third-Straight Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jul 2, 2014, 09:08
HENRICO — During a recent three-game slide, the Post 284 Pirates' body language and team mentality seemed easy to question. Falling behind in early deficits, a lack of enthusiasm on the field and an inability to record key hits marked the losing streak, but a lineup shake-up may have been the wake-up call the team needed.
Entering Tuesday night's game against West End Post 361, the Pirates had won two games in a row and had started to regain the confidence which had been missing. But after three innings, the newfound resolve Post 284 discovered over the weekend was put to the test as Post 361 pushed across five runs to take an early lead.
Earlier this season, an early five-run deficit would have marked gloom for the Pirates, but instead of wilting, the team came together and headed toward a comeback win. And the path to a win started with a two-out, four-run rally in the 4th inning and continued with the pitching of Austin Gammon on the mound.
Entering the game in relief for the Pirates in the 5th inning, Gammon made sure he'd keep his team in position to grab an unlikely win. The Virginia Wesleyan product faced the minimum number of hitters through his first three innings out of the pen before surrendering a lead-off single in the 8th.
While Post 361's dugout thought it would be the moment they break the game open and retake the lead after the Pirates tied the game, Gammon dug deep and promptly struck out the next three hitters in a row. The right-hander used a late-breaking hook to freeze two hitters while mixing in a punch-out with a letter-high fastball.
The momentum shift given to the team by the relief effort of Gammon finally gave way to offensive production in the 10th inning as Collin Fleischer lined an opposite-field single to drive in Joe Petree with the eventual winning run. Logan Mills would record the final three outs on the mound in the bottom of the 10th to close out a 6-5 come-from-behind win and third victory in a row for the Pirates.
However, without the five-shutout innings tossed by Gammon in relief, the Pirates' offense may not have been in position to earn a confidence-building victory.
"Austin really settled them down," Post 284 manager Gilbert Baber said of Gammon's pitching on the night. "He keeps us in it whenever he's on the mound and we're starting to get hits ... We've been hitting the ball, but they haven't been finding holes until recently."
One person who was key to the rediscovered potency of the offense is the team's starting shortstop.
Nathan Eaton is the Post 284 (5-3) lead-off hitter and the spark-plug at the top of the lineup. While sometimes he can frustrate coaches with his penchant for swinging early in the count, it's difficult to be upset when he produces the way he's capable of. Against Post 361 (4-4), Eaton was on an entirely different playing field.
While West End Post 361 pitcher Kyle Saltzberg retired Eaton in his first at-bat, Post 361 could not retire him the rest of the way in a 4-for-5 performance. It was Eaton who drove in the first run for the Pirates in their four-run 4th inning with a ground-rule double. Then, with the Pirates trailing by one-run and only six outs to play with, it was Eaton depositing the first-pitch of the 8th inning over the left field fence for a game-tying home run.
For good measure, the rising senior at Thomas Dale also singled in the 10th inning to advance Petree — the eventual scorer of the game-winning run — after he reached base on an error. His impact is the reason why Baber has been reluctant to preach patience to Eaton and the rest of his lineup.
"He's one of our spark-plugs," Baber said of the Virginia Military Institute commit. "That's why I said I can't get mad. Him and CJ (Henderson) are my trigger guys. I don't care if they swing at the first-pitch. If they get out, they get out. But normally they start the innings for me."
On this night, Henderson didn't just start an inning, he delivered a key two-run single to help his team rally from behind. It all set the stage for Fleischer late in the game. After the first two hitters reached base, Henderson laid down a perfect bunt which took an awkward bounce into foul territory.
It would be the last chance Henderson had as he would strikeout on a 2-2 offering, leaving it up to Fleischer. With the pressure firmly on his shoulders, the soon-to-be VMI freshman calmly singled in the winning run. It was just another example of a winning attitude beginning to develop amongst the Pirates.
Entering the season with high expectations with a roster filled with talented players, the Pirates stumbled out of the gate. Perhaps the lineup shake-up was all the team needed to begin to fulfill their abilities and with it came the change in mentality.
"Slowly, but surely," Baber said of the mentality improving. "That's three wins in a row for us now. They were a little shaky there, starting to think we were losing faith, but it's coming back which is what we need this time of year."
Another dramatic win has given way to a reinvigoration of confidence for the players of the Post 284 Pirates and it could be the type of win which sparks a lengthy run toward a championship ending.