By Steve B. Brooks
Rockport, Ind., Post 254 got off to slow starts in its first two American Legion World Series pool play games and still managed to pull out victories. But on Saturday night the Indiana squad showed how dangerous it can be when it starts fast.
Bolting out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and 6-0 by the end of the third, Rockport topped Omaha, Neb., Post 1 8-3 Saturday night to clinch a spot in Monday’s semifinals. Rockport finished pool play 3-0 and improved to 35-1 overall.
Rockport had fallen behind 3-0 in its first pool game and didn’t get a hit until the fifth inning of its second one. There were no similar issues Saturday night.
“We just came out and swung the bats early,” said Rockport first baseman Jakob Shuler, who was 2-for-4 at the plate with a run and two RBIs. “I think the nerves of the whole thing were gone. After the first game I said we’re going to be a tough team to beat when our bats come alive, and they came alive tonight.”
Indiana got started with a textbook first inning. Kobe Stephens opened with a walk, Trever Zink singled and Spencer Deom bunted both runners over.
Shuler followed with a two-run double down the left-field line and then moved to third on Sammy Rowan’s single. Shuler came home on a wild pitch, and suddenly Post 254 led 3-0 just six at-bats into the game.
Two innings later Indiana was back in business. Two walks and a fielder’s choice put runners on first and second with one out. Caleb Helms singled to score Rowan, Zach Hopewell followed with an RBI single to score Gant Miller, and Matthew Embry’s double brought home Helms, extending Post 254’s lead to 6-0.
Post 254 added a run in the bottom of the fourth when Zink singled, moved to third on a walk and hit, and then came home on Rowan’s sacrifice fly.
After being shut out by Indiana’s Hunter Rowe through the first six innings, Omaha (59-5, 1-2 pool play) finally broke through in the top of the seventh. A hit batter and two walks loaded the bases, and two wild pitches brought home Bobby Morgensen and Craig Petrich.
After a sacrifice fly by Evan Bergman scored Andrew Morrow to bring Omaha within 7-3, Brett Vosick and Brandon Bena each singled. Rowe was replaced by Brenden Lewis, who got a groundout to end the threat.
Indiana answered with a security run in the bottom of the eighth, taking advantage of three Omaha errors and a wild pitch to bring Deom around for an 8-3 lead.
Omaha put runners on second and third with one out in the top of the ninth before Lewis got two fly balls to end the game.
Rowe (1-0) wound up pitching 6.2 innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs while striking out four.
Now Indiana will get to relax while pool play finishes up, knowing it has one of the top seeds in the semifinals.
“Coming into (Saturday), we were like, ‘If we lose, if this, if that,’” Shuler said. “We got the team together, and we were like, ‘let’s just win it and put all the worries out the window. That’s exactly what happened.”
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