It's hard to believe now that, just four years ago, on a humid night in Powhatan County in 2012 when, after many years of trying, Mechanicsville Post 175 baseball finally won an American Legion District 11 Championship, in the midst of a record-setting unbeaten season where Mechanicsville didn't suffer its first defeat until the State Tournament in Stafford County.
Thursday night at Shepherd Stadium in Colonial Heights, Post 175 head coach Bobby White thought back for a moment to that program-changing event.
"175, with all the great players that had come through before, had never won a district title before 2012," White recalled. "To be a part of that run, then be here as a part of this run when it's now been four out of five years, and to be in the finals five straight years, and win the winners bracket final five straight years, it's been a pretty fun five years for Post 175."
Now Mechanicsville looks ahead, once again, at a trip to the Virginia State Tournament, looking to again make history, but this time at the next level. But first, Post 175 had to, once and for all, end a great rivalry with South Richmond Post 137 that began on opening night when Mechanicsville's defense collapsed, and so did a lead, as South Richmond won at Hanover 10-8, continued with Post 175's win at L.C. Bird High School, then saw round three become a crazy night in the tournament winners bracket final just 48 hours earlier, Post 175 seeing a 9-1 lead disappear before holding on for a victory.
White believed the freshness of that game drove his team in the championship round Thursday night to counterpunch when Post 137 mounted the expected comeback, as Mechanicsville saw an 8-1 lead dwindle to 8-5 in the fifth inning.
Enter Patrick Henry graduate William Strong, who, with two outs and runners at first and second, launched a key double to the left field wall for two critical runs. The lead was back to five, and South Richmond never threatened fully again.
Justin Bishop's middle relief work for starter Tyler Morgan weathered the final pushes from South Richmond, but this championship game belonged to the bats, as Mechanicsville scored at least once in every inning from the second to the eighth, the clincher belonging to second baseman and 2015 Atlee graduate Brandon Crosby, who launched a fly ball over the head of the right fielder to score the winning run to invoke the ten-run rule.
"If I went 0-for-8 tonight, that would be fine so long as we got the victory," Crosby said, admitting he had struggled at the plate during the regular season. "That's all I really look for. If we're winning, that's all that matters to me."
Another key performance, this one defensively, came from Aaron Saunders at shortstop. Saunders had struggled in some recent games at the position, but came up strong in the championship, especially in the fifth inning, ending the South Richmond rally at four runs when it could have been much more, and in the seventh, as he charged on a tough grounder off the bat of Jonathan Triesler, firing to first for the third out to strand two Post 137 runners and draw Mechanicsville closer to victory.
The 2016 Virginia State Tournament will begin Tuesday in Danville, a three-hour journey for Post 175, and finally, far enough away from Mechanicsville that they will be able to not worry about daily travel to and from the tournament site. By tournament rule last year, for example, as many of their opponents in Spotsylvania County traveled a few miles to a hotel, Post 175 had to make the one-hour each way trip day after day to the tournament site.
Coach White put his team's chances into succinct focus before leaving Shepherd Stadium to begin tournament preparation.
"We've got a really good team, but we're going to be challenged," White explained. "If we bring our 'A' game, if our pitchers can throw strikes and our hitters can do what they've done the last week or so, we're going to be okay. But if we don't take our best down there, we'll get beat."
Mechanicsville begins another charge at the elusive state championship Tuesday at the American Legion field in Danville.
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