Tournament baseball is all about pitching. And if you don’t have it, then you won’t win.
Odds-on favorites to win the Delaware American Legion tournament, Stahl Post 30 and Georgetown’s Post 8 Steever’s team (No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively) have five or six certified starting pitchers that they can throw out there (no pun intended) and pitch for a minimum of six or seven innings in the tournament’s extended nine-inning games.
Tournament rules state that no player may pitch more than 12 innings or make four appearances as a pitcher during any consecutive three-day period, so teams lacking pitching definitely feel the pinch.
Sussex East’s Post 28 was one of those teams that just couldn’t win with the pitching that they had.
Stahl Post 30 knocked Sussex East out of championship contention with a 9-0 tournament-ending loss on amidst 100-degree-plus temperatures on Aug. 1.
The tournament directors trimmed the games from nine innings back to seven (regular-season arrangement) due to the excessive heat. But, still, Sussex East had trouble getting the maximum from their pitchers.
Aside from Game 1 starter Colin Warner, none of Sussex East’s pitchers made it past the fourth inning. (In that game, Sussex East beat Wilmington’s Post 1, 7-5.)
Warner was tagged for five runs through three innings but settled down to scatter a mere three hits over the next four innings, while striking out six, before making way for reliever Cody Jensen.
Post 1 had the luxury of seeing 123 pitches from Warner. But when Jensen came in, it was lights-out.
It only took him 19 pitches to secure the final six outs for the save, but from there Sussex East had very little consistency from their pitching other than the fact that they didn’t last long.
Trevor Abbott only went four innings in an 11-6 Game 2 loss to Georgetown’s Post 8. And Zac Spece gave up six runs, all of which were earned, as well as seven hits and five walks, while striking out only one in 3-1/3 innings.
Spece walked three straight batters, plating Dover Post 2 second-baseman James Overstreet, before making way for Mike Casale, who earned the win in a tight game.
Post 2 tied the game at eight apiece after six innings and following quiet 1-2-3 innings for both teams, shortstop Josh Dean broke the deadlock with a one-out solo homerun to left-centerfield (one of two homeruns in game). And the rest of the Sussex East batting order took it from there to win 13-8, which set up their game against Stahl Post 30.
Sussex East manager Jody Sweetman mentioned that he had stacked Warner, Abbott and Spece as Game 1, 2 and 3 starters in hopes that they could each go at least six innings to free up their relievers, but that wasn’t how the chips fell.
Sweetman had to use Casale earlier than he wanted, which eliminated him from starting against Stahl Post 30 and forced seldom-used pitcher C.J. Bell into a starting role for Game 4.
“We were a little weak on pitching, so we were hoping that could get done with one (starter) apiece,” Sweetman said.
Bell lasted only three innings and allowed seven runs, six hits and two walks, while striking out three on 65 pitches before giving way to Jensen.
Jensen gave up only two runs on three hits over his four innings, but by that time the damage was done — Sussex East’s World Series hopes were gone.
“Obviously, we have good pitching. We just don’t have a lot of pitching,” Bell said. “And it hurts (the team) when you don’t have your best pitcher on the mound.”
“I know I’m not one of the top pitchers. But all I could do is go out and try to throw strikes and get ahead of counts,” he added.
A natural infielder, Bell made two tough plays in shallow right-centerfield — including a diving catch over his shoulder, in-between Dean and two converging outfielders, to end the seventh inning. And he was part of a defense that turned three double-plays against Dover Post 2.
Bell pitched four strong innings in his pitching debut this season, in an abbreviated double-header against Delvets on July 16. He finished out an 11-1 mercy-rule loss to Georgetown’s Post 8 at the end of the regular season, closing out his only two outings of the year.
Had Sussex East mounted any type of offensive surge, Sweetman and assistant coach Brendan Warner had contemplated inserting Warner into the game in an attempt to slow down Stahl Post’s hot bats, but they couldn’t muster a clutch hit.
“Brendan and I talked (prior to the game) and said if the game was close, then we’d bring him in to finish. But, in the end, it wasn’t worth risking an injury to him,” Sweetman said. “Colin is college-bound and the heat can make arms tender, so we decided that it wasn’t worth it.”
In fact, Sussex East managed only four hits, and Jensen was the only batter who was able to advance past second base.
“We got Cody over to third base with one out, and we couldn’t score,” Sweetman said. “If we could’ve scored there, who knows what would have happened. Those are the opportunities that we have to capitalize on.”
In the end, Sweetman was pleased with his team (19-12 overall) in his inaugural season as manager and expects much of the same next season.
“I’m really proud of the guys,” Sweetman said. “We sort of got a late start in recruiting, but we did get some key players. Martez (Hagans), Brian (Scott) and C.J. (Bell) were great pickups for us. And, in the end, I think we earned a little respect. Dover and Post 1 are good hitting teams.”