LINDEN — The Post 72 American Legion team got the 2021 season started with a flair Sunday.
They won two games, first an 8-3 win over Kokomo Post 6 with a solid performance in all three phases of the game.
Then they topped that by scoring seven runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, all with two outs, to beat Sullivan Post 139 by a final score of 12-11.
After not playing Legion baseball last summer, there were smiles all around the place, some from the wins, and a lot from the fact that games were being played.
“Some of these guys haven’t played an inning of baseball since 2019,” Coach Kyle Proctor said of a couple players who graduated from high school in 2019 and missed last summer due to the pandemic. “It was just fun to be back on the field.”
The locals gave their fans plenty to be happy about.
After winning their first game over Kokomo, Post 72 had to sit through a game between that Kokomo team and Sullivan (won by Sullivan 9-3) before taking on the visitors from way south.
Sullivan’s bats stayed hot, and they never trailed until Post 72 scored that seventh run in the bottom of the seventh to end the game.
Trailing 11-6 with one at-bat left, the home team took advantage of a depleted Sullivan pitching roster, picking up only three hits, but utilizing five walks and a final error to score seven times.
It started with Jacob Braun (North Montgomery) reaching on a single. George Valencia (Fountain Central) drew a walk. They would both bat again in the inning and be central to the win.
Owen Gregg (North Montgomery) walked for the second time in the game. Both he and Valencia had not swung a bat in a game in nearly two years.
Before and after Gregg there were strikeouts, and things looked bleak for the home team, down six with two outs in the last at-bat.
Austin Motz (Crawfordsville) singled, his third hit of the game, and drove in a run. 11-6.
Cade Walker (Seeger) walked on his eighth pitch, with the bases loaded. 11-7
Landen Southern (Clinton Prairie) walked on his eighth pitch, with the bases loaded. 11-8
Matthew Harris (Tri-West) walked on his ninth pitch, with the bases loaded. 11-9
The previous three had combined to foul off 11 pitches to stay alive.
Sullivan, missing five players from Shakamak because they are still in the high school playoffs, was down to no pitching, but they made a change.
Braun was back up.
On the first pitch he saw, he stroked a single to left that scored two and tied the game at 11.
Valencia, who was warming up down in the bullpen in case he had to come in and pitch in extra innings, had to run down and grab a bat.
He worked a 3-1 count and hit a very high fly ball to center field.
The wind, which had been blowing out all day, was still doing so, and it carried the ball enough that the center fielder misplayed the ball.
It hit the ground, the winning run scored, and Post 72 picked up the second win of the first day of the season.
“We weren’t focused early in the second game,” Proctor said, “but I’m sure proud of the comeback. They guys never let up. We were down six runs with two outs and had great at-bats.”
Motz was the offensive force in the game, reaching base four times and scoring four runs.
Travis Henry (Crawfordsville) started on the mound, was relieved by Parsten Hefferman (Danville) and Motz, and finally by Brian Dobbels (Attica). Dobbels faced four hitters and got two outs as Sullivan scored four insurance runs in the top of the seventh, but picked up the win in his first baseball action since 2019.
Post 72 left a dozen runners on base and picked up seven total hits in the win.
Post 72 got the season off to a good start as they scored runs in four different at-bats and gave Southern an 8-0 cushion heading into the last inning.
Southern had scattered six hits in the first six innings and got out of some trouble four times, including three times with third-out strikeouts. He finished with eight.
He gave way to Tony Ramirez (Danville) with one out and three runs scored, and Ramirez ended things with two strikeouts.
“Southern really hit his spots,” Proctor said, “and we were aggressive at the plate. We played good defense.”
Taylor and Drew Bradley (Danville) both walked twice and scored twice to lead the offense. Bradley also drove in a run, and Post 72 took advantage of five walks and five errors. Ashton Sexton took the loss in relief.
With two games behind them, Proctor and his staff are looking forward to the season.
“We’ve got a great group of guys” he noted, looking at a roster with names from nine different high schools. “They have been rivals or opponents, but they are already friends. There is a lot of baseball talent on this group, and as it always is with Legion baseball, it usually comes down to pitching. I like the way we hit the ball today, and think that can be a strength. We have four great catchers in Jacob Braun, Zach Skinner (Clinton Prairie), Drew Bradley and Adam Acton (Fountain Central). There will be work for them, but they are also good athletes that can help us at other positions. Like I said before, it’s just great to be back with the guys. Our whole staff just loves coaching the game.”
Post 72 travels to Lafayette Thursday, then to Sullivan Friday before hosting Kokomo again next Saturday.