Post 284 Pirates Stave Off Elimination
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jul 19, 2014, 22:06
Collin Fleischer is greeted at home plate after his three-run homer.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Nothing has come easy for the Post 284 Pirates. Throughout the season, the Pirates have dealt with a rash of injuries, absences and sometimes even bad luck. However, they have been able to overcome these obstacles and it has made them into a mentally tough squad which can persevere through difficult circumstances.
Facing elimination in the American Legion District 11 Tournament, the Pirates faced one such scenario. After regaining the lead from Powhatan Post 201 in the bottom of the 1st inning, the Pirates ran into trouble in the second as lead-off hitter Nathan Eaton was ejected. While the loss of a top hitter can be crippling to certain teams, the Pirates rebounded to take a commanding 11-3 lead after seven innings.
However, Post 201 refused to give in and continued to make life difficult for the Pirates, scoring five runs over the 7th and 8th innings to cut the lead to just three runs. With the momentum trending toward Powhatan, the Pirates refused to panic, knowing there were just three outs away from staying alive in the postseason.
Darius Gillus took to the hill to shut the door to any Post 201 rally in the 9th inning, but promptly served up a lead-off double. Suddenly, a lead which looked insurmountable didn't have the same feeling surrounding it. Yet, Gillus rebounded to retire the next two hitters on just three pitches before getting lead-off hitter Parker Mead to fly-out to center, staving off elimination for one more day as the Pirates grabbed the 11-8 decision.
Although relieved to win the game and keep their hopes alive, Pirates manager Gilbert Baber also expressed some concern after his team failed to take full control of the contest and display a killer-instinct.
"I was a little more scared," Baber said. "It is an elimination game and we were cruising. That's our thing. It's been our problem all year. We cruise through games, but haven't been able to put it all together. If we played three-inning games, we would be undefeated ... we lost focus after jumping on them, but we got it done."
A big reason why the Pirates were able to jump out to a big lead was both the pitching of Austin Gammon and the defensive play behind him. Normally more of a pitcher who can pile up the strikeouts, Gammon instead pitched to contact and let his defense do all the work.
Numerous defensive gems were made throughout Gammon's outing including a sliding grab on a liner heading toward the left field line by Collin Fleischer. Then, there there were the few plays made in center which was patrolled by C.J. Henderson as he flashed his range through the contest.
But part of the defense's success was due to Gammon continually attacking the zone. Instead of working into deep counts and perhaps letting his defense lose focus, they remained attentive behind him and it worked in his favor. Through the first five innings, Gammon surrendered just one run and four hits. However, Gammon tired a little in the 6th, leaving too many pitched elevated in the zone as four consecutive Powhatan hitters reached base.
Austin Gammon earned the win on the mound with 6 innings of three-run ball.
Yet, Gammon would rebound after allowing two runs to score in the inning. The Virginia Wesleyan product retired the next three hitters in order, including picking up his lone strikeout of the night to preserve the lead.
"He pitched well and we played some great defense behind him," Baber said of the pitching and defense. "He didn't have too many strikeouts, so we played well behind him. Collin made some plays out there in left which were impressive."
However, Fleischer was even more impressive at the plate. Following Powhatan taking the lead in the top half of the 1st inning, Fleischer stepped into the box with runners on first and second with just one-out. The Virginia Military Institute commit calmly watched four straight pitches, three out of the zone, before unleashing on a 3-1 offering.
Fleischer connected on the fastball in the inner half of the plate and knew he got all of it as he rounded the bases for a three-run homer. But that would not be all. Fleischer also recorded an RBI double and a sacrifice-fly en route to a 3-for-4 night with 5 RBIs.
In fact, his hitting seemed to be contagious to the rest of the lineup during the 6th inning when Corey Johnston, Joe Petree, Cory Allgood and C.J. Henderson laced four-consecutive hits to begin the frame. It was the start of a five-run 6th which gave the Pirates the breathing room they needed. Yet, at the end of the night, it was Fleischer who shined the brightest and gives the Pirates a hot-bat when they need it most.
Collin Fleischer continued his hot-hitting with a 3-for-4 performance with 5 RBIs in the win.
"When we had those two runners on in the 1st, Collin asked me if I wanted him to bunt. I told him, 'Not with the way you're swinging,'" Baber said of the moment. "Then he goes up there and crushes it."
But the celebration of the win is a short-lived one. The Pirates have a tough task ahead of them, needing to win three consecutive games in three consecutive days to capture the District 11 title. It's the unforgiving nature of losing a game in a tournament fashion, but the Pirates still remain confident.
They know they have the players and the talent to pull off the difficult task, but they will need to remain focused for the full 27 outs. If they can learn from the mild scare Post 201 put into them with a late-inning comeback, the Pirates can look back at this win as the springboard to a championship run.