Post 81 makes most of evolving roster

Eastern Randolph Post 81’s Anthony Lopossey throws a pitch during the series-clinching game in the first round of the Area 3 playoffs. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)

Forfeit costs Eastern Randolph in playoff pecking order

RAMSEUR – Changing lineups have been part of the formula for the Eastern Randolph Post 81 baseball team.

While that took a cruel twist at the end of the regular season, the team has no choice but to focus on what’s ahead with the American Legion Area 3 playoffs beginning.

“Whoever is there, we’re going to go with,” head coach Nate Cockman said. “What happened in the regular season kind of prepared us for this. You’ve got to be able to adjust on the fly, which we’ve done all season. Just kind of going with the flow.”

Post 81 began the playoffs by sweeping a first-round series against Concord Post 51 with games Friday night and Saturday afternoon. This came after the team figured it had the weekend off.

But following Thursday night’s regular-season finale at Foothills, a ruling came that the team must forfeit that result because of ineligible players.

Three players were deemed eligible based on their residencies. So that knocked Post 81 from the Southern Division’s top seed and a first-round bye to the second-place spot.

Randolph County Post 45 moved to first place in the division.

“Just an unfortunate situation,” Cockman said. “They’ve been with us since May. We weren’t hiding anything.”

Next for Post 81 comes a best-of-3 quarterfinals matchup with Stanly County, set to begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Craven Stadium in Ramseur and Game 2 the next night at West Stanly High School.

There wasn’t much time for Post 81 players to dwell on the developments.

“They’re definitely upset about it, the whole situation, but there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Cockman said. “We told them we’re going to address it one time and not let it become a distraction.”

The eligibility issue stemmed from a protest lodged by another Area 3 team regarding out-of-county players T.J. McGraw, Jacob Bates and Maddoc Glines. It was determined that they reside closer to other American Legion teams – as far away as Richmond County – that meant they would be required to play for those teams unless waivers were granted.

Cockman said it became a paperwork issue because he wasn’t aware the three players live closer to other American Legion teams. Cockman said that after the issue surfaced late last week that permission was sought and granted from those teams, but Post 81 team officials were told it was too late.

McGraw batted No. 2 in the order and played a variety of positions. Bates was the No. 2 pitcher and Glines was an outfielder. The trio accounted for 192 at-bats.

“A big chunk of our team is gone,” Cockman said.

All three players will have American Legion eligibility next season. With the proper paperwork, they would be cleared to play for Post 81, Cockman said. McGraw and Bates live in Moore County and attend O’Neill School in Southern Pines. Glines plays for Lee Christian.

Post 81 has gone 16-8 on the field, but with two forfeits – the other from a non-league game – that puts the team’s mark at 14-10. Because of the forfeit, Post 81 ended up 7-3 in Area 3 Southern Division play, a game behind Post 45. Eastern Randolph held the tiebreaker if the teams had been deadlocked in the standings, though the teams split two meetings.

The only games forfeited were victories since June 25, which was the deadline for formal roster submissions.

Post 81 clinched the series with Concord with a 10-4 road result Saturday, with Anthony Lopossey logging 6 2/3 innings. Nate Gardner rapped two doubles, Parker Evans drove in three runs and Aidan Allred added two RBI.

In the series opener in Ramseur, Post 81 won 11-3 behind Samuel Asbill’s complete game, while Luke Thomas homered and Joaquin Gordon rapped a two-run double.

Before the result was overturned, Post 81 capped the regular season with a 14-0 victory at Foothills in Thursday night’s make-up game. Thomas, the team’s ace, struck out nine in a five-inning complete game and Brody Gardner knocked in three runs.

As it turned out, Thomas wouldn’t have been used on the mound, Cockman said, had it been known the game wouldn’t count.

Often during the regular season, fluctuating player available meant that Post 81 took the field with anywhere from nine to 15 available players.

“We do have a committed core group,” Cockman said. “We wanted to have depth and that meant we had multi-position players. … Our pitching has kept us in games. We’ve done a pretty good job of getting length out of our pitchers.”

Post 81 defeated Stanly County 4-2 in a non-league game (the other outcome overturned) on June 26, punctuated by McGraw’s game-winning two-run homer. Bates was the winning pitcher.

Stanly County didn’t have a first-round series because winless Sandy Ridge opted to skip the postseason.

Post 45 (22-8) embarks on the playoffs Tuesday against the winner of the Greensboro/Mooresville series.

By Bob Sutton