Albany Post 30 pitcher Bret Shepard of Sherwood Christian throws during the first inning of Friday’s second game of the Paul Eames Memorial Baseball Tournament. Shepard and Post 30 rallied to win, 7-6.
ALBANY — Their body language was dreadful, their effort listless. Coach Bennie Waters even felt that he needed to call a team meeting outside the dugout — after just two innings.
“We had a talk,” Waters said. “They needed to re-check themselves and figure out what the heck we were doing out there.”
Whatever Waters said to his American Legion Albany Post 30 Senior team worked like a charm during the early stages of Game 2 of the Paul Eames Memorial Baseball Tournament on Friday as Post 30 rallied from a 4-0 hole in the top of the sixth inning to beat the Wiregrass (Ala.) Cardinals, 7-6, thanks to a seven-run outburst.
The win put Post 30 — which is badly in search of redemption in this tournament after coming up short in the title game last week against Conyers — in first place in its half of the bracket after Day 1 of the nine-team tournament. Post 30 doubled up Tallahassee 19-and-under in the early game, 6-3, and now needs just one more win today to advance to Sunday’s championship game against the winner of the other bracket.
Waters said afterward that he ought to thank Wiregrass for their brazen steal attempt of home in bottom of the second inning — an attempt that was successful, putting Post 30 in that 4-0 hole — because it “woke us up.”
“That got (my guys) mad and excited all at once,” Waters said of his team’s demeanor when he pulled them aside for a meeting between the second and third innings. “It woke us up when they stole home. You don’t see that a lot.”
It took three more innings before Post 30 was fully awake — and before it could chase Wiregrass starting pitcher Austin Clayton, who had been throwing a shutout up to that point. But Clayton got into a nasty jam from the outset of the top of the sixth and never recovered.
Clayton, who hadn’t allowed a Post 30 runner past second base before the disastrous sixth inning, started things off with a walk of Lee County’s Bryce Moye. Dawson’s Josh Brunswick then smacked a single to advance Moye to second. Following a strikeout, Post 30 loaded the bases, thanks to another single, this time by Dawson’s Kyle Stratton.
Wiregrass’ head coach then came out for a meeting with Clayton. Feeling satisfied with their talk, he decided to leave the Cardinals’ obviously tiring starter in the game to face the heart of Post 30’s batting order.
Terrell Academy star Clint Smith drove in a run with an infield groundout, making the score, 4-1, then Josh Wardrip — Smith’s teammate at TAE — dropped a bomb on Wiregrass in the form of a deep shot to the gap in right center that drove in two more runs.
But it got worse for Wiregrass — and a whole lot better for Post 30.
With the score now 4-3 and Wardrip on first, Lee County’s Corey Clouser was walked by Clayton, who was struggling with his command in a big way at this point. That was followed by a gutsy coaching call by Waters for Lee County’s Jay Howell to bunt.
That’s right, a bunt — with two on, down a run and down to the final out. (In this particular tournament, games are only six innings, rather than the usual seven, meaning the top of sixth inning was do-or-die for Post 30).
“I told Jay before he went up there to keep an eye on third base and where he was playing, and if he felt like he could get a bunt down in that direction, to go for it. It was his call, really, based on what he saw,” Waters said. “Plus, Jay is the fastest kid on our team. And I knew if anyone had a chance to make it, it would be him.”
Much to the crowd’s surprise, Howell did bunt — and it was a beauty. He sped to first base, just beating the throw and advancing the runners to load the bases.
Clayton then drilled Post 30’s next batter, Cole Goodwin of Leesburg, with two outs, bringing home the game-tying run to make it 4-4.
Clayton was subsequently pulled after that costly mistake, making way for a reliever for the Cardinals.
Although, he didn’t fare much better.
On the third pitch, Dawson’s Caleb Waters drilled a bases-clearing double to deep left center — a shot that was about 10 feet from clearing the wall for a grand slam — to put Albany comfortably ahead, 7-4, and three outs away from victory.
Wiregrass, however, wouldn’t go away. The Cardinals brought home two runs in the bottom of the sixth to close the gap to 7-6, but then Howell made what Waters called “the play of the game” to preserve the victory.
“We knew the kid from Wiregrass was a contact hitter, and I told Jay to be on the lookout for the relay throw home if he got a hit because that would give us a chance to throw him out and keep that run from scoring,” Waters said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
With the bases loaded and just one out, Cameron Choquette, one of the Cardinals’ best hitters, drilled a shot into left field, bringing home two runs. But when the game-tying run rounded third, Howell was in the process of scooping up the relay throw — and he drilled the Wiregrass runner at home in a bang-bang play.
Wiregrass’ coaches didn’t like the call and argued with the home-plate umpire for several minutes. When play resumed, Goodwin struck out the final batter to move Post 30 to 2-0 to start the tournament.
“Feels good to get a win,” Howell said afterward. “That bunt (in the sixth) was big — I knew I had to get a bat on it and get it in play — but I think the bigger play was the throw home. I knew I had to keep that run from scoring.”
In Post 30’s early game, it jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Tallahassee, then scored once in each in the final three innings to seal it.
Smith was 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI in that win, while Clouser had two hits and scored a run, and Lee County’s Austin Joyner doubled and scored a run. Howell picked up the win on the mound, going 3 1/3 innings before leaving with a one-run lead, which Goodwin came on in relief and held onto.
Post 30 returns to action today at noon against Wiregrass’ No. 3 team, followed by a 3 p.m. showdown with Vidalia Baseball Academy.
LEESBURG POST 182 SPLITS FIRST TWO GAMES: Post 182 needs to win out today in its final two pool-play games to have a shot at meeting its rival, Post 30, in Sunday’s championship.
Post 182 took it on the chin in its opener Friday, 10-2, against the Tallahassee Baseball Club after two errors in the fourth inning broke up a 1-1 tie game and put Tallahassee in command.
Worth County’s Eli Reddell had two hits and Baconton’s Brock Pinson had a double in the Game 1 loss. But Post 182 rebounded in its second game to beat Wiregrass’ No. 2 team, 6-5, in eight innings.
Post 182, the visitor in Game 2, scored twice in the top of the seventh to take a 5-3 lead when Worth’s Ryan Hickcox drove in Pinson and Miller County’s Jake Warren. But Wiregrass came back to tie it at 5-5 and force another inning. That’s when Crisp Academy’s Hunter Brooks — the Game 1 losing pitcher — found redemption by singling in what proved to be the game-winning run.
Brent Kyzar of Leesburg was the winning pitcher in Game 2, going four innings and striking out five, while Pinson finished with two hits and made a huge defensive play in the bottom of the eighth inning to rob Wiregrass of a base hit that surely would’ve scored the game-tying run. Instead, Pinson stabbed the hit out of the air, then doubled up the runner at first to end the threat and secure the win.
Post 182 returns to action today against Wiregrass’ No. 1 team at noon., followed by a 3 p.m. duel with Post 30’s Junior team.
The top two teams in each bracket advance to play for the title Sunday at Paul Eames Park at 12:30 p.m., while the second-place teams in each bracket will face off before the title game to decided third and fourth place.