Post 284 Pirates End Season On High-Note, Eye Playoff Run
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jul 14, 2014, 09:27
Nathan Eaton fired five scoreless innings on the mound and blasts a three-run homer at the plate to spark the Pirates' victory.
CHESTERFIELD — When Post 284 Pirates manager Gilbert Baber looked at his roster before the American Legion season began, he knew the type of talent they had. After all, a handful of the players had played for Baber's junior team which captured a state title last season. He knew if the pieces fell into place, they would have a chance to repeat their success at the senior level.
However, the success they aimed for took a longer then anticipated climb. Dealing with injuries, absences and uncharacteristic poor play, the Pirates experienced an up-and-down start to the campaign. It seemed they could not put a complete-game together where the trio of pitching, hitting and defense would come together. But over the past week it has all changed.
Baber's club has found a way to win games without their top-of-the-order, played solid defense and delivered top-flight pitching performances. And in the regular season finale against Post 137, it was more of the same from a club which had won three of its last four games entering the contest.
Starting pitcher Nathan Eaton set the tone on the mound in the bottom of the 1st inning, striking out the side after allowing the lead-off hitter to reach base on a hit-by-pitch. The shutdown of Post 137's top-of-the-order silenced the team's bench and allowed the Pirates to gain all the momentum.
Then, in the 2nd inning, they took complete control as Eaton blasted a three-run home run over the left field fence to put his team ahead by a four runs. The four-run advantage was enough for the VMI commit on the hill, silencing the Post 137 hitters before suffering leg cramps in the 5th inning.
Eaton would overcome the slight adversity, battle back from a 3-0 count with the bases loaded and strikeout Post 137 clean-up hitter Brad McKay to end the inning. It all set the stage for the Pirates to capture a closer-than-anticipated 8-5 victory at L.C. Bird High School in a game Eaton set the tone for the win with both his bat and his arm.
"We have a lot of confidence when we have a good pitcher on the mound," Baber said of his team's mentality behind Eaton. "We know they aren't going to score many, so we don't have to score a lot ... He wanted to continue, but there was no way I was going to let him with the playoffs coming around the corner."
At the moment, it looks as if the Pirates will be the No. 3 seed entering Thursday's opening round playoff games and they have the look of a team ready to breakout. In fact, there were signs of a pending breakout both in Sunday's win and in games earlier this week.
One of the key reasons for the optimism is the improved at-bats of Devin Baber. Normally one of the team's middle-of-the-order threats, Baber had struggled for much of the season. His long swing caused his timing to be off which resulted in pop-outs. However, instead of letting it affect him, Baber continually brought great defense to the field at first base while working to fix his mechanics.
The work he put in has started to show of late as Baber has hit the ball with more authority and he almost put the exclamation point on his week with his 5th inning at-bat against Post 137. Baber unleashed on the very first offering from Post 137 pitcher Michael Flanagan and blasted it deep into left-center field.
While the blast didn't quite have the distance, bouncing off the fence, it is a bright spot moving forward for the Pirates if his bat is waking up at the right time.
"He's been working with coach Eaton. That's his work," Baber said of his son with a laugh. "He's been struggling so we've been taking him to the cage ... he hasn't struck out for four or five games and he's starting to drive the ball more. It's working and that's good for us."
But it isn't just Baber heating up at the right time. It's been the entire Pirates team coming together collectively to enter the playoffs playing their best baseball of the season.
It seems wherever one looks, the Pirates have players who can make a difference on any given day. There's Austin Gammon's leadership from behind the plate making the difference with his throwing ability. Then, there's Darius Gillus who has quietly been an offensive beast for the Pirates all season long in addition to the exploits of Eaton and Collin Fleischer who also blasted a home run against Post 137.
And the production even trickles down to the bottom half of the lineup with the play of Cory Allgood who has hit the ball hard over the past two weeks, Joe Petree's ability to continually work the count and get on-base to the continued importance of C.J. Henderson at the top of the order. It's why Baber says the early struggles which brought about some concern has actually helped him team start to reach its fullest potential.
"Earlier this season, I was using those makeshift lineups and now we are finally coming together. When I have everyone, we are a really good team," Baber said. "Sometimes we are a little too confident, but to go into the playoffs on a roll like we are, any coach would say that's a good thing. We're ready to go."
All season long, the Pirates have eyed the postseason and with it now a few days away, they are set up to fulfill the goals they've been reaching for since the campaign began.