American Legion Baseball: The State Championships

Garner Post 232 rides momentum into state finals

cbest@newsobserver.comJuly 22, 2013 

— Their summer is basically gone, so the Garner Post 232 American Legion Baseball team has decided to just finish it off doing what they do best – winning games.

Post 232 rolled into the eight-team state championship tournament with a three-game sweep of Pitt County Post 39, finished off with an 11-1 victory at Trojan Park Sunday night.

The state tournament appearance is Garner’s first in more than a decade.

“We’ve played different after the 13-5 loss to Johnston County (in the second round of the playoffs),” said Garner manager Chris Cook. “We decided then that if we’ve played this long – all summer – why not just keep playing, having fun and winning.”

Post 232 has won five straight since that Game 2 loss in the Area 1 West semifinals and has posted a stellar 8-2 record in the unforgiving American Legion playoff format where there are rarely off days, especially in a summer like this one ravaged by rain.

Post 232 will have to do that again over the weekend in the non-stop eight-team, five-day marathon that is the state tournament.

“We’re there now,” Cook said of making the state tournament. “Anything can happen in this tournament. We’ve just kept the same attitude that ‘We’ve stayed around this long, we might as well go ahead and finish the thing out’.”

Friday night, in the Area I Championship Series opener against Pitt County, the start didn’t look like it would go Garner’s way. Down 5-2 in the ninth, Post 232 strung together a four-run rally – capped by Tyler Marshburn’s game-winning RBI single – to escape with a 6-5 lead.

Early Saturday afternoon at Clark-LeClair Stadium on the campus of East Carolina University, Post 232 kept its offense going, jumping out to a four-run lead in the first three innings en route to a 5-4 decision.

Taylor Stephens went 3-for-4 in the win, while Lucas Scott scored twice. Carrington Austin registered a first-inning RBI single and Zac Orrison plated another run on a sacrifice fly.

“We just carried that momentum from Friday night right on through the rest of the series,” Cook said. “We carried it over the next day, jumping out with four runs early, then did it again with a big lead tonight.”

Garner led 8-0 after two innings on Sunday night and was up 11-0 before Post 39 scratched a run out in the sixth inning.

Garrett Suggs worked a complete-game five-hitter for Garner in the seven-inning victory.

Addison Braswell had three hits and scored three times. Orrison and Keenan Herring put up two-hit nights as well. Herring’s night included a solo home run.

“We’re the dirty dozen again, two years in a row,” Cook said of his team which now has just 12 players. “But we’ve got a lot of heart and a feel like we can score runs no matter who we play.”

Garner already has its potential first break of the state tournament, drawing a Jacksonville team with a losing overall record in the first round. Jacksonville upset Morehead City in the playoffs to qualify for the state tournament.

Post 232 and Jacksonville open the tournament Friday at 4:30 at Fleming Stadium in Wilson. Win or lose, Post 232 will be in action again on Saturday. The double-elimination tournament continues through July 31.

“We’ve got the job done all year,” Cook said. “No matter what the changes the guys have handled them. We’ve got just enough guys that we know if you’re number is up, you have to get the job done. And these guys trust each other to do that and they’ve done it throughout the playoffs.

“They play with heart and keep plugging no matter what. That’s what it takes at a tournament like this.”

Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest

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