Post 284 Bucs Explode In State Tournament Opener
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Aug 13, 2014, 19:50
Jayson Maitland went 3-for-5 in the Bucs' dismantling of Post 3 Roanoke
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — After two innings of play, it appeared the Post 284 Bucs would be in for a struggle all night in their first game of the American Legion Junior State Tournament. Facing Post 3 Roanoke, the Bucs started the contest by receiving two consecutive base-hits, but failed to push across a run.
It would be more of the same in the 2nd inning for Post 284. Catcher Tomas Sanchez led off the inning with an opposite-field single to put the Bucs in business. Then, Sanchez stole second base during an at-bat by Jackson Cox. However, Cox and the following two Post 284 hitters failed to come through with a runner in scoring position — the Bucs were 0-for-6 in such situations through two innings — and it only grew worse in the next half inning.
Starting pitcher Brandon Gunn witnessed Roanoke lead-off hitter swing through a called third-strike, but reach base on a pass ball. A base-hit and a 5-4-3 double-play later seemed to get the Bucs back on track until another dropped third-strike kept the inning alive. Post 3 third baseman Hunter Matheney took advantage of the opportunity and laced a grounder toward first which was booted and allowed the first run to score.
However, the Bucs had an answer after manager Marcus Morgan huddled his team in front of their dugout prior to taking their hacks at Roanoke starter Holden Hurt. The quick chat with their manager seemed to reinvigorate a team which had been sleepwalking through the early part of the game and it resulted in one of the more devastating innings one will see.
Post 284 sent 17 hitters to the plate during the 3rd inning assault on Roanoke, scoring 13 runs on six hits and two errors while taking advantage of two dropped third strikes themselves. The 13-run inning would be all the cushion the Bucs needed to quickly dispatch the overmatched Post 3 squad in a mercy-rule shortened 18-3 game at Shepherd Stadium.
A contest which seemed destined to be a head-scratching loss turned into a resounding victory after one key discussion after two lackluster innings of play by the Bucs.
"After we gave up the one run in the inning before, I told the guys to not play down to the competition," Morgan explained about the game-changing talk. "I reminded them that they had to believe they were better than the other team and they came out and responded. That was the first time we've scored that many runs in one inning all season."
And the Bucs were able to orchestrate such a productive inning by changing their approach at the plate. Morgan noticed Roanoke's pitcher was relying heavily on his curve-ball and his own hitters were having long swings against the pitch. Instead, the Virginia State University assistant coach told his team to shorten their swings and focus on going through the baseball with great effect.
But while the Bucs recorded six hits in the inning with two of those coming in the extra-base variety, it was a small-ball tactic which jump-started the onslaught. Following a from Quenten Thomas, Dylan Wells looked down the third base line and read the signs given from Morgan.
On a 2-1 pitch, Wells pushed a perfectly placed bunt down the first base line between both the bag and the mound to reach with an infield single. It was the type of play made by winning teams and while the ball did not travel more than 70 feet, it may have been the most important hit of the game.
"I knew when Dylan came up they would be expecting a bunt on the first-pitch," Morgan said of the situation. "I went ahead and let him take that pitch and he got behind in the count with a strike, but Dylan has great bat control. I knew if he could push it just a little bit past the mound, he'd get on base easily."
But Wells was not the only one to excel on this night. Matt Culbreath, perhaps the team's most consistent hitter, finished the game 2-for-4 with 4 RBIs, doubling his season-total in just three innings of action.
However, it was Jayson Maitland's game which truly stood out. It wasn't because he put on a laser-show during the game — although he did by going 3-for-5 on the night with 3 RBIs. And it wasn't because he showed off both the leather and strong arm on an unconventional 1-6-3 put-out, although that, too, was impressive. Instead, it's how he overcame failure from a semifinal loss last week and allowed it to fuel him to even better results.
Brandon Gunn solidified himself as the staff ace with another impressive three innings of work in the win.
"He was a little down with himself because in the semifinals, he struck out with two guys on," Morgan explained. "He just wanted to come out today and regroup from that and he did."
Although Maitland's resurgence and the offensive explosion were key elements to the win, the chance to pull ace starting pitcher Brandon Gunn — he entered the game with a 1.24 ERA — after just three innings. With a tournament set-up of having to play five games in five days, saving arms is critical to championship hopes.
"They gave us the rules before the game and it said pitchers can only throw 10 innings in the whole tournament," Morgan said. "Gunn has been my best pitcher all year. His ERA is down, he keeps us in the ball-game and the fact we had that big inning allowed me to pull him and save his innings for the rest of the tournament."
Post 284 overcame an uninspired start to capture a huge win, saving arms, gaining confidence and sending a message to other opponents in the process. However, momentum is fleeting. For the Bucs to keep their championship dreams alive, they need another solid team-effort, taking it one-pitch and one-inning at a time.