Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

July 12, 2014

Sixers stand one win from state title

CALVERT CITY — As the Ashland Post 76 Juniors prepared to face defending state champion Paducah on Saturday afternoon in the American Legion State Tournament semifinals at Mike Miller Park, you could feel the tension in the air between the teams.

That tension would turn to controversy in the fourth inning, but would not derail the Sixers from advancing to today’s state championship game with an 8-2 win.

Post 76 jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the second inning on back-to-back singles by Brock Damron and Austin Brinkman to open the frame. Nick Conley scored on a passed ball and Heath Hensley added another on a sacrifice fly.

Jacob McKee opened the Sixers’ fourth with a ground-rule double and Bobby May followed with a hit of his own as they sent eight hitters to the plate, resulting in three more runs and a 5-0 lead.

Andrew Rice returned to the bump in the fourth and retired the first two batters he faced, only to have his day cut short after a controversial call resulted in his ejection from the game after hitting a batter with a 1-1 count. Rice left the game with a no-hit bid intact over 3 2-3 innings of work.

“It was an interesting game,” Post 76 head coach Mark O’Bryan said. “We looked good early with Rice on the mound and a 2-0 lead through three innings, and then we get some controversy. We did a good job of handling the controversy and handling the things that I thought were ruled against us. We kept our composure well.”

Trey Johnson took the ball in relief, working two innings before handing the ball over to Drew O’Bryan to close out the contest. The Post 76 pitching trio combined for a one-hitter in the victory, that being a one-out opposite-field single off Johnson in the sixth inning.

“Trey Johnson and Drew O’Bryan came in and got us outs to get us past the controversy,” Mark O’Bryan said. “It didn’t matter who it was playing, it was a total team game and I can’t complain about any of my 14 kids and the job they do every day.”

The Sixers backed up a 12-hit opening-round game with 13 hits in the semifinal round. Four players finished with multiple hits in the game as Brinkman went 3-for-4 with three singles, Damron was 2-for-3 including a RBI double, and Braden Wyatt and May each finished 2-for-4.

“We hit the ball well,” O’Bryan said. “I’ve got kids on the bench that hit the ball well and it’s really a guessing game of who’s going to have the hot bat at times.”

Post 76 advances to the state championship game today at 1 p.m. with its pitching set up just how O’Bryan envisioned it, needing only one victory to earn the state crown.

“I think we will swing it well tomorrow and we are in great shape pitching-wise,” the coach said. “I have three solid lefties in Daniel Rutherford, Casey Clark and McKee, who can come back after only throwing three innings Friday.”

Post 76 will turn to its experience from last season to lead this group of 14 players that O’Bryan calls “magical” to a state title. While O’Bryan says the experience is great, the players make his job easy.

“It’s great to have the experienced players from last season back again this year,” he said. “We were one play from a state title last season and I can see it in the eyes of those guys how badly they want it. It’s great to have experience but I don’t do anything special. It’s easy to coach that group of 14 players.”

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