Post 182 third baseman Caleb Morrell races Post 30’s Mason Wisener to the bag during Saturday’s first inning. Wisener was called out on the play, but Post 30 won the rivalry game in the Paul Eames Memorial Tournament, 8-5. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Jack Bell wasn’t worried.
The Leesburg American Legion Post 182 Senior team took a 3-2 lead against Bell’s Albany Post 30 Senior team in the top of the fourth inning of Saturday’s Paul Eames Memorial Tournament game, but Bell knew what was coming next — the comeback.
Fueled by Bell’s two-run double, Post 30 scored five runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to retake the lead and beat their biggest rival, 8-5. The victory ensured host Post 30 a spot in today’s semifinals, while Post 182 was eliminated from advancing.
“They took the lead, but I’m thinking, ‘We got this,’ ” said Bell, a former Lee County standout and Chipola College signee. “We are definitely a come-from-behind team. Most games when the other team gets the lead, we will come back and outscore them in our half of the inning. I had a feeling that’s what was going to happen (Saturday).”
Post 30, which lost an inconsequential game to Jacksonville Post 88 later in the day, finished pool play 3-1 and will play Covington Post 32 at 10 a.m. in today’s semifinals at Paul Eames Sports Complex. Post 182, which also lost Saturday evening to Dothan Post 12, went 1-3 in pool play.
Saturday’s game between the Southwest Georgia rivals was the first of at least three matchups this summer — including a Wednesday billing between the teams to kick off league play. Post 182 coach Tom Pinson said the silver lining of not advancing in the annual Paul Eames tourney is that his pitchers will be able to rest for next week’s matchup, which counts toward the conference standings.
“Maybe they will use up their pitching (today), and we will rest ours,” Pinson said. “That’s the positive you can take from this.”
There were plenty of positives for Post 30, which got another big game from Bell, who was 2-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs. In Friday’s opening two games of the tournament, Bell was a combined 5-for-7 with three RBIs.
“The coaches have been working with me to try to drive the ball the other way, and that’s pretty much what I have been doing,” Bell said. “Everybody is clicking on all cylinders right now. We are all seeing the ball and hitting the ball, and our pitching is dominant.”
Lee County’s Chris Hayes was the starting pitcher for Post 30 and looked sharp in the opening innings, retiring the side in order in the second and third. Post 182 got to him in the fourth inning with back-to-back hits from Malik Spratling and Josh Hatcher — two players who also play for Lee County — and Hayes was relieved by Trojan teammate Chris Mosley.
Post 182 plated two runs in the inning to take a 3-2 lead, but Post 30 rallied in the bottom of the inning with five runs. Along with Bell’s two-run double, Eli Reddell (Worth County) and Dallas Denney (Lee County) also drove in runs in the inning, which was extended because of an error and a fielding miscue from Post 182.
“Both of us had a big inning there, but theirs was a little bigger,” Pinson said about the fourth inning. “You have to learn to take the outs when they give them to us and you get out of those big innings.”
Post 182 cut into Post 30’s lead in the fifth inning to draw to within two runs, but former Crisp County star and rising freshman at ABAC Landon Whitman took the mound in the sixth and seventh innings and was unhittable.
The Post 30 left-hander, who just joined the team after enjoying a deep playoff run with Crisp County, struck out the side in the sixth inning and didn’t allow a hit in the seventh inning.
“If he throws strikes he is tough to handle, and he did that against us (Saturday) and shut us down,” Pinson said of Whitman. “We will have to learn to deal with him, because we will see him again.”
Post 182 was led at the plate by Spratling, who was 3-for-3 with two RBIs and a double. Hunter Goodwin also picked up an RBI for Post 182.
Other key hitters for Post 30 were Mason Wisener (2-4, R), Dillon Hughes (1-3, 3 R) and Denney (2-3, RBI, R).
The victory gives Post 30, which finished as runner-up last year after losing a coin flip to Jacksonville Post 88 when the championship game was rained out, a chance to end a multi-year drought in the Paul Eames Memorial Tournament.
“To win this would show respect to the man who brought baseball to Albany,” Post 30 coach Charlie Maxwell said about Eames, who died in 2011 after spending a lifetime of coaching and promoting the game of baseball in Southwest Georgia. “We would love to do that. And we still have a good bit of pitching left, so we will see how it goes.”
The Albany Post 30 Junior team opened play Saturday with a run-rule victory against Jacksonville Post 283 but then lost to Tallahassee Post 13 in a game that decided a spot in today’s semifinals, finishing the tournament with a 2-2 record.
With the win, Post 13 will play Jacksonville Post 88 in today’s other semifinal contest. The Leesburg Post 182 Junior team went 0-2 on Saturday and finished the tournament 0-4.