Legion Preview: Post 87 poised to make third straight state tourney run
High Point manager Rob Shore has turned the American Legion baseball program into a bona fide contender for state championships. Now, he would like nothing more than to go out and win one of them.
Post 87 has visited the state tournament two seasons in a row, but neither trip has been pleasant. In 2011, the Junior HiToms won a single game, while last season they came back to Finch Field with a goose-egg. With six returning players and a crop of talented players set to take the diamond, 2013 could finally be their time to capture the elusive title.
“We have been solid, and for us to have not been to the state championship in over 35 years, and then go back-to-back is great,” Shore said. “We need to make sure we maintain that level of play. I think the nucleus here can do it. My job is to make sure we get back to the state championship and give us that opportunity again.”
In legion baseball most coaches turn to pitching as a key to success, but with the lineup assembled by Shore and his staff this season, the offense may be too much for opposing teams to overcome.
Stacked with power hitters throughout the order, there should be a lot of baseballs jumping out of the hitter-friendly confines of Finch Field. In High Point’s home opener with Western Forsyth Thursday, the first six hitters were about as intimidating as they come at this level for pitchers to stare down.
“We look the part,” said Shore. “We are very physical looking and I think we are going to grow into our own.”
Defensively, Post 87 has several players at its disposal to use at multiple positions.
Going around the horn starting at first base, Post 87 will have Nick Blackwood (Brevard), Zack Michalski (Wesleyan) and Kyle Morrison (Brevard). At second base will be Wesleyan’s Hayden Manuel and Trinity product Colin Rosenbaum.
The left side of the infield features players with speed and power. Manuel and Rosenbaum could each see time at shortstop, along with UNC-Asheville’s Mitch Carstens. Manning the hot corner at third will be Zack McClain (HP Central) and David Newcomer (Trinity). McClain bats third in the lineup and has power to all parts of the park.
Roaming the outfield will be Blackwood, Trey Byrd (Wheatmore), Levi Gessell (HP Christian) and Boston New of High Point Christian.
“What I really like is I have a lot of athletes on this team.” said Shore. “I feel comfortable putting these guys in multiple spots.”
Recent seasons have seen dominant pitchers pass through the program and 2013 should be no different. There are five potential starters led by staff ace Tyler Britton of Catawba. A third-year player, Britton is poised to be the featured starter.
At the No. 2 spot will be Blackwood, with Chase Saunders (Wheatmore) third on the depth chart. Josh Wilson (HP Central) and Ryan Kahney (HP Central) complete the rotation.
Carstens, New, Michalski, Rosenbaum and Bubba White (Ledford) will anchor the bullpen.
A new wrinkle this year in the Area III is a change from two divisions to four. Post 87 received a tough draw with Burlington-Graham, Eastern Randolph and Randolph County joining them in the Northwest. A lot will be riding on those six games in divisional play.
“Those three teams have finished in the top five of the Area III North for the last three years,” said Shore. “Our division is stacked.”
There is nothing Shore can do about it but go out and play. The only direction to go is forward with a team capable of sweeping the three teams that will try and stand in there way.
“ These kids have not played together before and I have got to get these guys comfortable with each other,” said Shore. “You have seven different high schools and seven different coaching styles. But the talent is there for us to do a lot of damage this year.”
Sports Editor Zach Kepley can be reached at 888-3631, or firstname.lastname@example.org.