07/20/04 — Post 11 three wins away from state tourney

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Post 11 three wins away from state tourney

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on July 20, 2004 1:55 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Wilson Post 13 remains the final obstacle in Wayne County Post 11's path toward the Area I East Division title and a berth in the state tournament.

The teams split their regular-season series with each winning on their home field. Since its loss at Wilson nearly a month ago, Wayne County has reeled off 18 victories in its last 21 outings.

"It's going to be tough," second-year Wilson coach Rusty Dail said. "They're playing well. They hit the ball and have good pitching. We'll have to play our best to contend (for the title)."

Wayne County (24-5) is making its 10th appearance in the Area I East Division championship series since 1993. Dail, a former player and assistant coach for Post 13, can't ever remember Wilson reaching this round of the playoffs.

Game one in the best-of-five series is tonight at 7 p.m. at Mount Olive College. The series winner advances to the eight-team, N.C. American Legion State Tournament scheduled for Aug. 4-7 in Shelby.

"I told our boys this is an opportunity that doesn't come along but once in a lifetime," said Dail, whose team is 4-1 in the playoffs this season. "We've got our work cut out for us. If we play like we did in the Beaufort series, I think we can make a game out of it."

Wilson (16-13) rallied from a one-game deficit to eliminate second-seeded Beaufort 2-1 in North Division play. Post 13 took care of business in the semifinals and swept Ahoskie 2-0.

Meanwhile, Post 11 worked its way through the grueling South Division. It survived a late-inning collapse at New Bern and then rebounded from a game one whipping against Pitt County. Wayne County won both series 2-1 with the deciding victory coming on its home diamond each time.

"They're a hard team to beat at home," said Dail, who watched Post 11 eliminate Pitt County Post 39 on Sunday evening.

Scarborough Field is comparable to the famed Bates Motel from the cult classic Pyscho. Visitors check in, but very rarely do they escape with a victory. Wayne County is 18-1 at home this season and 45-7 overall since moving to the pitcher-friendly facility in 2002.

Good defense, confident pitching and smart base running has led to Post 11's home success this season.

"We've got some very experienced outfielders in (Erik) Lovett, (Todd) MacCoy and (Garrett) Sutton ... some of the best outfielders I've seen this year," Wayne County coach Brad Reaves said. "At Scarborough, you have to have good defensive outfielders. I think our pitchers also have the confidence that they don't have to be so fine and can go up there and throw strikes.

"They know we're going to run it down (in the outfield)."

Lovett's horizontal diving grab of a fly ball in foul territory turned out to be a key defensive play against Post 39. If the ball had gotten away from the sure-handed right fielder, Pitt County would have scored two runs instead of one in the fifth inning.

Reaves has used nine pitchers in six playoff games. Philip Pennington (3-0) has thrown 10 solid innings and earned the series-deciding win against New Bern and Pitt County. Garrett Davis and Adam Williams, a pair of Charles B. Aycock standouts, have combined for 18 2/3 innings.

Wayne County's earned run average (ERA) is 4.74 in the playoffs, but it faced two of the league's top three hitting teams. New Bern batted .245 in its three-game series, while Pitt County hit .315 -- including an 18-for-40 showing in the first game.

Post 11's staff has allowed 60 hits in six games. Ironically, the Wayne County offense has produced the same number of hits and is batting .290 collectively during the postseason.

"We had to knock each other around a little bit and I knew that would happen when we had to play New Bern and Pitt," Reaves said. "That's how you get better by playing teams as good as you are."

Grant Sasser will get the start tonight against Post 13 and attempt to avenge his only pitching loss of the season. Sasser received a no-decision in his lone playoff start at New Bern.

The left-hander, a rising sophomore at C.B. Aycock, is 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA. He's yielded nine earned runs in 19 innings and recorded 21 strikeouts.

"He's come in and thrown strikes," Reaves said. "He hasn't thrown at this level before or seen the type of hitters he's faced, but I think he's done well. We wouldn't start him if we didn't think he deserved it.

"He didn't pitch that bad against them the first time. We just kicked it around behind him. He's mature mentally, shows very little emotion on the mound and that's one thing I like about him."

Wayne County owns a 6-2 advantage against Wilson in the playoffs since 1993.