KOKOMO – It was second place, but it was still historic.
The Byron Cox Post 72 baseball team etched its place in Post and area history with the team's first appearance in the Legion State Finals, finishing second to Rockport Post 254 by a 4-2 margin.
Looking for its first state title, Post 72 gave a full measure to Rockport, who wins their 11th state title.
Needing to win two games in one hot day, and with available pitching extremely limited in the fifth game on the fifth day of the double-elimination tourney, the local Post team fell behind in the first inning, tied the game in the second, but fell behind for good in the third.
Unable to mount the comeback, Post 72 finishes the season 20-12.
“This team came a long way,” coach Kyle Proctor said. “They battled all day, all tournament. They played with and through injuries. This is truly a special team.”
Featuring players from several area teams, no player was more special than Jacob Braun.
The North Montgomery graduate, heading for Illinois Wesleyan in two weeks to start football camp, and the unequivocal team leader, had three of his team's six hits for the day, scored one of the two runs, and was behind the plate for every defensive inning.
“I'm just lucky, to be honest,” he said, standing in the sun in a sweat-soaked, dirt-caked uniform after the trophy presentations. “We didn't get to play last year because of Covid, but we did this year, and it was just so much fun to play with these guys. In just this short season, I have made some great friends and some great relationships.”
At or near the top of every batting category, and also one of the two players who made it to every game, Braun was also the guy with a uniform on that everyone else looked to.
“We had a moment during the season when something started to happen” assistant coach Kraig Proctor said. “Jacob simply looked at the guys and said 'we don't do that here' and it stopped.”
“We were a couple games in when I realized I had to be more of a vocal leader,” the first-team All-Sagamore Conference catcher said. “I try to lead by example.”
With Braun calling every pitch, just as he had done for the Chargers, the Post 72 pitching staff finished with a 3.35 ERA and a nearly two-to-one strikeout to walk ratio.
“It was the most fun I've ever had playing baseball,” he added.
The championship game saw Post 72 fall behind when Rockport scored a run in the first, and then tie the game when Braun hit one to the left-field fence and stood at second.
He would score after a Cade Walker single and a Matthew Harris fielder's choice.
A Houston Compton two-run homer for Rockport in the bottom of the second put Post 72 behind for the rest of the day. They added an insurance run in the sixth.
In their last at-bat, Post 72 got a run when Drew Bradley walked and eventually scored on a George Valencia single.
Walker was a double-defensive star, keeping a toenail on first base while stretching into right field for a throw to complete one double-play, and then the Seeger product started another twin-killing, laying out to grab a line drive and coming up throwing to second to double a runner off. Zach Fichter also hauled in a long fly ball in left field, stretching out for a diving catch to save extra bases.
Landen Southern pitched until he hit the 105 legal limit, as the Clinton Prairie first-team all-stater struck out seven and walked three. Bradley pitched in relief.
“This run in the tournament shows just how good Legion baseball is,” Kyle Proctor said. “You see great players and great baseball at this level. We think it is certainly an alternative to travel ball. We finished the season on a 9-2 run, and I know that will be a big recruiting tool for us next year.”
Rockport will travel to West Virginia in early August to compete in the regional level of the National Tournament. Rockport finished as national runners-up in 2016.