Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

July 13, 2014

Junior Sixers storm back to win Legion state title

CALVERT CITY — The character of a team is defined by how it responds when faced with adversity.

The Ashland Post 76 Juniors stared adversity dead in the eye after falling 6-4 to defending champion Paducah in Game 1 of the American Legion Baseball State Championship Sunday at Mike Miller Park, forcing a one-game winner-take-all for the state title.

Post 76 answered the call while leaving no doubt of whom the top team in the state was, defeating Paducah 16-2 in five innings to earn the state championship.

After defeating Paducah 8-2 in a controversial contest Saturday, Post 76 was in the driver’s seat to the state title. However, it was Paducah that took control in Game 1.

Ater Post 76 jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, things appeared to be shaping up for a Sixers’ state title. But Paducah would not go away without a fight as it capitalized on several defensive miscues mixed with perfectly placed hits that resulted in the Sixers’ first defeat of the tournament.

“We came out flat in Game 1 and were not mentally prepared,” Post 76 coach Mark O’Bryan said. “We jumped on them 1-0 in the first and I expected us to go from there, but we made some errors and they hit it where we weren’t and that quick, we are trailing 4-1.”

O’Bryan complimented the approach of the defending champs.

“They were the defending state champions and if our kids showed up expecting less than their best then we were wrong,” he said. “They had a title to defend and I respect the effort they put up against us. The lefty tossed a nice game and got us to swing at bad pitches, which never let us settle in at the plate.”

Paducah kept Post 76 off-balance at the plate through six innings and held a commanding 6-1 lead as the Sixers headed to the plate in the bottom of the seventh. They were able to push across three runs and had the tying run at the plate in Jacob McKee but could not finish the rally as a ground ball to second base ended the game and forced a winner-take-all game.

“In the bottom of the seventh we actually had the tying run at the plate,” O’Bryan said. “We weren’t mentally ready to play early but we swung the bat like men after that.”

Although Post 76 came up short in the rally effort, it carried the momentum from the seventh inning of Game 1 into Game 2 and took an early 4-0 lead. The Sixers were never challenged by the defending champs as they tallied 16 runs on 18 hits, their best offensive performance of the tournament.

“That says a lot about the how powerful this team is,” O’Bryan said.

Paducah was unable to back up its 11-hit performance in Game 1 as Post 76 pitchers Andrew Rice and Keelan Rice combined for a two-hitter.

As Rice fired the final pitch of the game toward catcher Nicholas Collier’s mitt, Paducah lifted a routine fly ball that Braden Wyatt settled under at third for the final out, sparking the celebratory team dog-pile at the mound as Post 76 finally got the best of its nemesis.

“They’re our rivals and they put out a quality group every year,” O’Bryan said. “We owe them a lot more than this one but I’ll take them one at a time.”

For a group of kids that O’Bryan calls “magical,” it was a team-first mentality for all 14 players on his roster.

Post 76 had three players finish 3-for-4 in the contest in the offensive onslaught. Drew O’Bryan had two doubles and six RBIs, Wyatt had two singles and a double with three RBIs and Bobby May had three singles. Brock Damron and Heath Hensley finished 2-for-3 with two and three RBIs, respectively.

Wyatt was named the tournament’s most valuable player while O’Bryan, Damron and May were named to the All-Tournament Team.

Post 76 closed its season out with a 23-13 record, including a 7-1 mark through its final two tournaments of the season — something O’Bryan said is a testament to the caliber of players on his squad.

“You have a kid like Bobby (May) who lies out to make a diving catch when leading 16-1,” O’Bryan said. “Kids like Keelan Rice and Collier who just do whatever is asked of them. I had the best outfield a coach could think of in McKee, Casey Clark, Daniel Rutherford and Nick Conley. Austin Brinkman turned in two great pitching performances for us this weekend. It’s stuff like that that makes coaching this team so special.”

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