Post 284 Pirates Take First Step In Playoffs
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jul 17, 2014, 21:55
Post 284 Pirates conquered the first step in their quest for a state title.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — The playoffs always bring along added pressure and higher emotions to any sporting event, but the tense atmosphere inside Shepherd Stadium went beyond a postseason game. The Post 284 Pirates and Post 284 Bucs are heated rivals.
While many of the players know each other off the field and have played with one another for separate travel teams, once they put on either jersey, the passion is noticeable. During the regular season, the Pirates captured two of three meetings with the Bucs and had the more successful of the two campaigns, earning the No. 2 seed entering the playoffs. However, that meant nothing if they could not win when it mattered most.
And from the start, the Pirates made sure they displayed their superiority. Following a lead-off walk to Nathan Eaton, the Pirates utilized small-ball techniques as C.J. Henderson advanced Eaton to third after a stolen base and Darius Gillus lofted a sacrifice-fly. But the Pirates were not finished.
They would bat around in the 2nd inning, blast five hits and push across six runs to take a commanding seven-run lead and deliver a sucker-punch to a Bucs team which had their ace Rick Spiers on the mound. While the Bucs would orchestrate their own big inning in the 3rd, also batting around while pushing across four runs, the damage was done.
The Bucs were never fully able to recover from the opening salvo delivered from the Pirates, committed a costly four errors and could not feed off the energy from a passionate crowd. With cheering for both sides, controversial calls and frustrated coaches, it was the Pirates who remained even-keeled to capture a 10-5 win to advance in the winners bracket of the playoff tournament.
"I've coached a lot of these kids since they were little and when we had our team huddle, they saw it in my face how important this game was," Pirates manager Gilbert Baber said after the win. "We're tired of being the step-child of Post 284 ... It was very emotional for sure."
While emotions can often cause a team to not play at their fullest ability, that was not the case for the Pirates. In fact, it was their 2nd inning outburst which finally showed what the team is capable of when they have a full compliment of players.
An inning which looked to be dead to rites after two consecutive strikeouts stranded both Austin Gammon and Blake Hartman on first and second, turned into a big one when Maurice Gothe legged out an infield single to load the bases. Then, Eaton delivered an opposite-field single to drive in one to start the onslaught.
Nathan Eaton slides across home with the first run of the game off a sacrifice-fly from Darius Gillus.
A walk to Henderson pushed across an additional run while Gillus' bouncer up the middle drove in a pair. But it would be Collin Fleischer putting the exclamation point on the inning with a rocket down the third base line for a two-run double. All season long, the Pirates had struggled to produce long innings which both tire out the opposing pitcher and deliver a confidence boost to themselves.
However, the lineup made up for it against Spiers, the Conference 12 Player of the Year this past season for his work on the mound and at the plate for Matoaca.
"We haven't had everyone, but tonight we had the majority of our team and look what happened," Baber said of his offense. "We were scoring almost every inning off a quality pitcher who was All-Conference ... teams are sleeping on us because they faced us when we didn't have everyone and they were all close games."
Although the final margin of victory was five runs, it could have been a lot closer if not for the job Logan Mills did on the mound. Mills struggled with his sharpness early in the game as he struggled to command the strike zone and finishing off hitters when ahead in the count.
It's what allowed the Bucs to get back into the game with a four-run 2nd inning and brought up a question if Mills could be counted on to protect a lead. However, those questions were pushed to the side as Mills adjusted his game-plan after the mini rally from the Bucs.
Logan Mills tossed seven innings in the win.
Mills noticed he was relying a little too much on his curveball and the Bucs were sitting on it with two strikes. It also didn't help matters Mills was leaving the pitch over the middle of the plate, so he made sure to attack them with fastballs. The quick adjustment paid dividends as Mills was able to gut his way through seven innings while allowing just five runs to earn the win.
"He's a slow starter, but he's a really gritty kid. He fights his way through sometimes," Baber said. "He's been pitching a long time, so he knows what to do."
As do the rest of his teammates who were waiting for this moment all season. While the win over the Bucs is satisfying for the players and the coaching staff, it is only the first step of their eventual goal which is laid out perfectly before them.
The Pirates have their full roster, home field advantage and a rested pitching staff which creates the most favorable of circumstances. There are no guarantees in sports, but the enviable position makes the Pirates a confident team after round one.