Randolph County Post 45 team members go through their final postgame handshake line of the season Saturday at McCrary Park.
ASHEBORO – This Randolph County Post 45 baseball team seemed built for big things.
Too many big innings for opponents became the undoing for the host team in the American Legion’s Southeast Regional.
“I definitely think we could have had a better season than this,” left fielder Adam Cole said.
The end came with a 15-5 loss to Wilmington Post 10 in an elimination game Saturday at McCrary Park. The game was reduced to five innings by the mercy rule, with Wilmington racking up the final 15 runs.
With back-to-back losses, Post 45 (31-13) was finished. That left three other teams from the original eight-team field left to determine the qualifier for next week’s American Legion World Series.
“I thought we were going to run through this,” Randolph County center fielder/pitcher Braylen Hayes said. “It’s all about how you play as a team.”
Just like the state tournament a week earlier, Post 45 began with two victories and then exited with losses in its next two games.
“A tough two weeks,” Post 45 manager Ronnie Pugh said. “With all the injuries, it’s pretty remarkable really that we were able to come out and win a couple games (in each tournament).”
The ailments had piled up, with a pitching staff reduced by injuries, shortstop Tanner Marsh limping around all week, Blake Marsh dealing with a sore wrist and catcher Alex Martinez hampered by a bashed finger.
Yet the most unpredictable development involved Post 45’s Trey Way, who had played five positions in the field across the first three days of the regional and was slated to be the catcher Saturday. Hours before the game, Way became ill because of an allergic reaction. He was held out of the lineup and then departed during the second rain delay for additional care.
Even with that, it started well for Post 45. Randolph County scored two runs before the first out, beginning the game with three singles and notching the first run on a wild pitch. Cole drove in a run with a single, but Hayes was thrown out at the plate on the play. Martinez roped a two-out, two-run single and Tyler Parks followed with an RBI single.
A 9-minute rain delay preceded starting pitcher Robert Garner throwing his first pitch in the bottom of the inning. Wilmington’s Logan Ponnett hammered a two-run homer in the bottom of the first before an out was recorded. After five Post 10 batters took their turns, there was a 53-minute halt.
The frame ended with a 5-3 score and Wilmington leaving the bases loaded.
Connor Kane’s grand slam on an 0-2 pitch from Garner with two outs in the bottom of the second inning gave Wilmington its first lead. Post 10 scored in every inning, with Post 45 using three pitchers but none could slow down Wilmington’s 14-hit barrage.
“We came in here lacking pitching,” Hayes said.
Still, Post 45 was stacked. There were veteran players along with newcomers Hayes and Way, who were standouts on Randleman’s second consecutive Class 2-A state championship team from the high school season. North Carolina recruit Tyler Parks was available for the postseason, Blake Marsh and Tatum Marsh had been in college programs, and Pugh could field a team with all-star credentials at about every position.
“We won 30-some games,” Pugh said. “Stuff hit at times. Maybe we were a couple of arms short.”
Blake Marsh and Cole both had two hits in the finale.
Much of the core of the team is eligible to return. Players have called it a positive experience.
“I loved it,” Hayes said of American Legion baseball. “Every second was fun for me.”
Wilmington 15, Randolph County 5 (Randolph County eliminated)
Rock Hill, S.C. vs. Camden, S.C., delayed