After missing nearly the entire American Legion baseball season, Sussex East third-baseman Jay Marsh returned to the lineup and helped his team to a third-place finish in the Legion tournament.
Marsh hadn’t taken a swing in nearly two months, due to a nagging knee injury, but was gearing up for a return at the state tournament.
He had had only a handful of at-bats against live pitching since completing the 2006 baseball season with the Del Tech Roadrunners, but none of that would make any difference in the state tournament.
Marsh ranked second on the team in batting average (.400), was second on the team in on-base percentage (64 percent), while registering 23 putouts and a sterling (100 percent) fielding percentage.
Sussex East manager Jody Sweetman nestled Marsh deep in the batting order (ninth) in the first game, noting that he wanted his experience in the lineup. And after striking out in his first at-bat, Marsh scored a leadoff single that sparked a three-run rally to cut Post 1’s lead to 5-3.
Marsh loaded the bases with no outs the next inning, following a leadoff walk by C.J. Bell and a single by Trevor Abbott, which again started another rally.
Brian Scott battled off a full count, to cut the lead to 5-4 on a RBI infield single. Josh Dean plated Abbott on a four-pitch RBI walk to tie the game. And Colin Warner brought Marsh home on a sac-fly to left field, to take the lead for the first time.
Marsh again delivered another single to left field, on a 0-1 count with one out and one on (first base), which eventually yielded an insurance run for Warner and the 7-5 opening-round win.
“Jay’s an exceptional ball-player and, though I’ve never had a chance to have him on my team, I did see him play on Pete Townsend’s AAU team,” Sweetman said.
“I was a little surprised to see him hit like he did, because in your mind you expect a player to be a little rusty after not seeing live pitching in a while. But I had to have him in the lineup because of his experience and his potential.”
Marsh expected to be Sussex East’s designated hitter, but the rules make it difficult to keep the designated hitter in the game if the team makes a pitching change unless they make a straight up swap. So Sweetman planted him at first base, where he wouldn’t have to move much.
Aside from a sharply hit single that rocketed past his diving glove, no ball got past him. He stretched, scooped and hopped every single ball — including two high throws from the left side of the defense against Dover Post 2, to secure the first two outs of the bottom of the sixth inning.
“If you look at that, you’d say they were nice plays. But when you take into account that he was working with a bad leg, it makes it that much more impressive,” Sweetman said.
Following their 7-5 opening-round win over Post 1, Marsh sheepishly admitted that his knee is only at 60-70 percent, but he wanted to help his team win in his final year of Legion eligibility.
“It’s been tough not playing ball because it’s my last year. But you force yourself to accept it,” Marsh said. “I really wanted to help my team out, and the coaches thought that I could hit. So I went out there with that approach.