Coach Mike Delaney loves the resiliency of his Ashland Post 76 baseball team.
Victimized by a 15-run ninth inning two days earlier, Post 76 delivered the payback against Shelbyville Post 37 on Thursday afternoon in Central Park.
Quiet offensively through four innings, the Sixers exploded for nine runs in the fifth and crushed Shelbyville 12-1 in mercy-rule fashion for the American Legion District 4 championship.
“I’ve got a bunch of good, competitive kids,” Delaney said. “Hey, it’s the only reaction I would have expected. They got woke up. They got back on the rails and finished.”
Even more impressively, Post 76 romped Thursday behind an unlikely pitching star and played without three regulars who helped get them to the tournament’s final game.
Outfielder J. D. Pridemore was sidelined with an ankle injury from Wednesday night, when Ashland handed Shelbyville its first loss (6-3) in the double-elimination event. Also Thursday, the Sixers were missing pitcher/infielder Sammy Holder and catcher Cameron Fritz, who left for the Midwest Showcase in Illinois.
There was also the matter of a Post 76 pitching staff stretched thin by 36 innings of work the past two days.
Not to worry. Delaney handed the ball to tall, young lefty Alex Jones, who was one of three players called up for the tournament from the Post 76 junior team that finished state runner-up.
“I didn’t find out until I got here today,” Jones said of his starting assignment. “I was kind of nervous.”
He hid it well, pitching a five-hitter over seven innings to earn the victory.
“We got a lot more than we respected out of Alex,” Delaney said. “He’s capable. He went out and threw a gem of a game.”
Jones struck out five batters, including leadoff man Logan Bailey three times. Shelbyville’s only run was unearned.
“I just tried to hit my spots,” said Jones, who will be a junior at Russell. “I thought I hit them pretty well. I kept the ball low and let my teammates make plays.”
Jones and Post 76 got a break in the first inning after Shelbyville put runners on second and third with two outs. Nate Clifton followed with a grounder down the first base line. The ball rolled outside the chalk line before crossing into fair territory just before reaching the bag, creating an easy out.
Shelbyville took a 1-0 lead in the third on Buddy Johnson’s RBI double. Ashland, limited to a single through four innings by Post 37 starter Dan Sanders, sprang to life in the fifth by sending 15 batters to the plate.
All nine players in the Post 76 lineup came around to score during the surge. Jesse James and Jared Slone helped fuel it with bunt singles. Seth Boyle and Logan Salow supplied two-run singles, while Nick Thompson and Luke Farrar also contributed run-scoring hits. J.B. Brown was hit by a pitch to force in a run, and Zach Hutchinson drew a bases-loaded walk.
Ashland (22-13-2) tacked on three more runs in the sixth, highlighted by Hutchinson’s sharp single to plate Aaron Elam and Brown.
“It was nice to have all that run support,” Jones said.
Both teams advance to the eight-team American Legion State Tournament, beginning Tuesday in Campbellsville.
Delaney likes the way Post 76 players are “jelling and feeding off each other” after competing against one another during the high school season.
“I hope it can continue next week,” Delaney added. “We’re going to take it on the road.”
ASHLAND 000 093 0 — 12 11 4
SHELBYVILLE 001 000 0 — 1 5 3
Jones and Hutchinson; Sanders, Decker (5), Miller (7) and Wiley. W—Jones. L—Sanders. 2B—Johnson 2 (S).