American Legion baseball is back in full swing in Delaware, despite a throng of recent rainouts and umpire shortages. And Eastern Sussex Post 28’s new coaching staff expects to compete for the Legion state tournament championship again.
Last year, Post 28 finished its season 23-10 and fell one game short of the league championship by losing to Georgetown’s Steevers Club 10-4.
Former head coach Mearl Layton stepped down and new head coach Jodi Sweetman, along with assistant coaches Mike Casale and Brendan Warner, stepped up. But Sweetman and his players will have to do without last year’s standouts, Justin Collins (CF/P), James Davis (2B, P), Kevin VanVorst (1B), Jerry Meiklejohn (RF), Jake Lee (P/1B) and closer Zack Spudis.
“I’m not worried,” Sweetman said. “Someone always manages to step up.”
Sweetman may have lost a number of last year’s biggest contributors to eligibility but the team returns a heap of players fresh off a near upset of William Penn in the quarterfinals of this year’s high school baseball state tournament.
Post 28 also returns a quiver of some of the best pitchers Sussex County has to offer, as the centerpiece and strength of their team.
Colin Warner led the team in innings pitched last season (39) and finished with a 3-4 record but improved over the course of the year to go 7-0, with another team-leading 58 innings pitched, and a manageable 2.90 ERA for Indian River this past spring. He earned him second-team all-state and first-team all-conference honors.
Trevor Abbott, following his freshman year, displayed the type of ability that earned him four wins over up-state teams, including a 5-4, opening-round, come-from-behind state-tournament win over Brandywine. His 5-0 record as a reliever marked the best record for a Post 28 pitcher last season.
He struck out 21 in only 19 innings pitched.
Zac Spece had a 4-0 record last year for Post 28 and pitched a complete-game win over Sussex West in the season opener. Spece allowed three runs in the first two innings but calmed down from there to get the win.
Sussex West mustered only two more hits the rest of the game while drawing four walks, but Spece wouldn’t give in. In fact, he only got stronger. His only two strikeouts served as the final two nails in the coffin, to end the game in a 6-3 win for Post 28.
Mike Casale will serve as Post 28’s fourth pitcher and third right-arm. He pitched three games for Indian River last season and held a 1-1 regular-season record with a team-best 1.71 ERA.
Warner made mention that he’d like one more pitcher, and his wildcard is Cody Jensen (P/OF).
“I’d still like to have one more pitcher,” the assistant coach said.
Jensen hasn’t played baseball in a year, let alone pitched, so Sweetman made it clear that they would take their time and bring him along slowly.
“He’s been throwing on the side in practice and we’ll try to work him into the next game. But it would only be for a certain amount of time, regardless of how he’s doing,” Sweetman said. “I’d like him to throw 30 or 40 pitches and see how he does from there. As a left-hander, he’ll be huge for us. But it’s going to take some time. I didn’t want to throw him to the wolves in the Stahl doubleheader, because they’re a very good hitting team and I didn’t want him to get discouraged.”
“You sometimes try a pitch to see how it works and they rope it, so you don’t try it again. And that’s something we want to avoid (early in the season), but when he’s right I’d put him against any team.”
Despite losing both games to Stahl Post, Sweetman left encouraged by how hard his team played, how close the games actually were and where that leaves his team to play.
They lost the first game 6-1 but only had one bad inning, which led to a bases-clearing standup double in a bases-loaded situation. They held the second game of the double-dip scoreless through six before allowing two runs to score on a throwing error.
Warner and Abbott both earned losses, but the Stahl coaches know better than to look past Post 28 and that this squad has the horses to win it all.
“The Stahl coaches mentioned after the game that our pitching would definitely hold us in a lot of games,” Sweetman said. “I didn’t see one weakness anywhere on the field (against Stahl Post) and they have super pitching. And yet the games almost came down to whoever makes the first mistake, loses.”