TERRE HAUTE - The Byron Cox Post 72 baseball team played itself into the championship level of the American Legion Region 5 Tournament with a pair of dramatic wins Saturday, 5-4 over Terre Haute Post 346 and Sullivan Post 139.
The two victories move Post 72 into the title game Sunday, with one more win securing a berth in the State Finals next weekend in Kokomo.
Trailing late in both games, the local team complemented outstanding pitching all day with some key late hits.
“These were two huge wins for us,” Post 72 coach Kyle Proctor said. “It is just so much better to play out of the winner’s bracket.”
The two wins means that whoever comes back out of the losers bracket Sunday will have to beat Post 72 twice in order to advance.
It was three runs in the top of the seventh in Game 1, including a huge two-out hit and a bizarre play to take the lead and the win over Terre Haute, and then it was a five-run sixth inning in the second game win over Rockville, featuring four extra-base hits.
“Timely hits and excellent pitching - it works every time,” Proctor said. “The guys were just unbelievable in how they battled,” he continued. “They just never stopped. These last two weeks especially the guys have really played well.”
After striking out five times in the first 10 batters, Post 72 got a lead, lost the lead and got it back to defeat the host Wayne Newton Post 346 squad, who had beaten Crawfordsville twice in the regular season.
Four of those first five “K’s” were looking, as TH pitcher Jayson Cottrell had a nasty strike two offspeed pitch.
After all that looking, though, the visitors went after good pitches, with 14 of the next 17 hitters putting the ball in play in three pitches or less.
“We knew the early pitches were going to be strikes,” Proctor said. “We just started going after them.”
Two runs came across in the third, as Austin Motz doubled and scored on a Landen Southern single. Southern advanced to third on a Jacob Braun single and scored on a passed ball.
After Post 346 scored three runs in the fourth, they added a big insurance run in the sixth, taking advantage of Post 72’s only error of the game.
The seventh was hero-time.
It was Motz starting things again, this time with a walk. He then stole second.
Southern fouled off a bag-full of baseballs, finally putting one in play on the ninth pitch. It was deep to short, and the First-Team All-Stater beat it out easily.
Braun drove in Motz with an infield out, and Southern advanced to third.
After the second out was registered on an infield roller, George Valencia, whose name will be coming up in the next paragraphs concerning pitching, slapped a single, his second of the game, into short left field, scoring Southern and knotting the game at 4-4.
Then that play that ages coaches and trashes announcers vocal cords happened.
Valencia was getting a lead off first when Post 346 relief pitcher Logan Harrison saw that same thing and threw towards first.
Valencia was toast.
Except that the throw went completely over the first baseman’s head and with the immense expanse of foul ground, rolled and rolled and rolled away.
Valencia was already headed to second, never stopped and got right to third.
He rounded the base, saw that the ball had just been finally picked up, and just took off for home.
He was safe under the tag, scoring from first on a throwing error.
But the Fountain Central grad gets that pitching mention here, as he picks up the win.
Starting for Post 72, he allowed only three hits in his 6.1 innings of work. He struck out eight and walked three.
After getting the hit and scoring the go-ahead run, he made his way back out to the mound for the seventh inning. He had four pitches left before having to come out of the game under Legion rules.
On those four pitches, he got that eighth strikeout.
Southern came in from left field to take over on the mound, and after a walk, a pop fly, and a single, a line drive to second ended the game.
“We’ve had more than our share of breaks go against us,” Proctor said with a grin. “I’ll take that run scoring from first base.”
There was exactly 30 minutes to revel in the big come-from-behind win, as Sullivan Post 139 was waiting for the next game.
With Friday’s rainout, the winning team got exactly no time to prepare for the next foe.
But the result, while not quite as dramatic, was still the same.
Southern turned in a two-hit pitching gem, striking out eight of his own, but the baseball gods were looking the other way for five innings.
After Post 72 opened the scoring in the bottom of the first when Owen Gregg walked and scored on a Southern sacrifice fly, Sullivan got a pair in the third.
A routine ground ball to first hit a stone or divot and bounced into right field, accounting for their first hit of the game.
The very next hitter reached on an error and just like that, runners were on second and third.
Successive sacrifice flies scored both runners, and just like that, Southern and Post 72 was down 2-1.
Sullivan pitcher Clayton Stone was on his game as well, stranding five Post 72 runners in five innings. Post 72 did get one more run in the third when Drew Bradley walked, moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on an infield out, and scored on another wild pitch, making it 2-2.
Sullivan took the lead back in the top of the sixth on a walk, two stolen bases and an infield hit.
Things changed in the bottom of that sixth.
Stone tired a bit, and Post 72 found the range.
After a leadoff out, Henry Taylor wore and pitch and headed for first. He got to third on a Matthew Harris double to left, and they both scored on a Zak Fichter single to right.
Next were doubles by Gregg, Motz and Southern, each scoring a run.
It was suddenly 7-2, but now, Southern had run out of pitches.
Throwing 10 in the Game 1 save, he hit his limit on the last Sullivan hitter in the top of the sixth.
Drew Bradley came in from left field for his seventh appearance of the season, and the Danville product got a 1-2-3 outing to seal the win.
Post 72 will face the winner of Terre Haute and Sullivan Sunday afternoon in what is a championship game if they win.
If they lose, it will force a winner-take-all game Monday night, another product of the Friday rain issues.
Crawfordsville will go with Tony Ramirez on the mound.
Also from Danville , Ramirez has a 1-1 Legion record with an ERA of 3.38.