By Steve B. Brooks
Down 3-0 after just one inning of play, Rockport, Ind., Post 254 didn’t get off to the start it wanted. Its finish was an entirely different matter.
Post 254 (33-1) rallied in the sixth and seventh inning, pushing across five runs to overtake Post 342 6-3 in The American Legion World Series opener for both teams. The Indiana squad combined four hits with three Rowan County errors during the rally, and held the North Carolina team scoreless over the final eight innings.
“I think (nerves) probably played a little bit into it,” Post 254 Coach James Haaff said of his team’s start. “We’ve kind of been cooped up two or three days traveling and in hotel rooms. It just took a little bit to get into the swing of things. I thought our last seven to eight innings were pretty solid.”
In the first inning, Post 342’s Chandler Blackwelder reached on an error to lead off, and Dalton Lankford followed with a walk. The pair pulled off a double steal, and Hunter Shepherd then smacked a shot into center field that brought home both runners.
After an out, Shepherd moved to third on Brandon Walton’s single and then came home on an RBI sacrifice fly by Jake Pritchard for a 3-0 lead.
Post 254 came back with a run in the top of the fifth. Hunter Rowe led off with a single and moved to second on Gant Miller’s groundout. One out later, Kobe Stephens singled into center field to bring home Rowe.
Rockport was right back at it in the top of the sixth, combining three hits with two Post 342 errors for a three-run rally. Spencer Deom doubled and Jacob Shuler singled to put runners on the corner; an error put Sammy Rowan on first and brought Deom home.
A single from Andrew Hayden loaded the bases, and following a pop out to third base, Gant Miller’s RBI fielder’s choice scored Shuler. Another error one batter later brought Rowan home for a 4-3 lead.
Post 254 added to the lead in the top of the seventh when Deom walked and then took third on Shuler’s single. Both runners scored on a throwing error on Rowan’s groundout.
Rowan County (38-12) put runners on base in each of the final three innings, including loading the bases with one out in the seventh. But Post 254 starting pitcher Andrew Hayden got Shepherd to hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat, and Post 342 couldn’t convert in either the eighth or ninth.
After the rough start, Hayden (2-0) held Post 342 scoreless over the next six innings. Corey Ebelhar pitched two scoreless innings to preserve the win, getting Lee Poteat to fly out with runners on second and third to end the game.
“He did a nice job,” Haaff said of Hayden. “I’ve seen him when he’s had more velocity, but maybe he threw just under the radar enough that they popped a few balls up. He obviously got a little better as he went along and probably gained some confidence to pitch his way on through.”
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