By Brad Fauber
Winchester Post 21 has had its sights set on a trip to Williamsburg for the state tournament from the moment the American Legion baseball season began back in June.
Boasting plenty of on-field talent, including a strong core of players from Group AA state baseball champion Sherando High School, Post 21 felt good about its chance of making a deep postseason run.
"Coming into the season, that was definitely one of our goals, to win the district tournament and go to the state tournament," Post 21 coach Kyle Smallwood said. "We had heard that some of the powerhouse teams were going to be a little down. We definitely thought this was our chance to do it with the caliber of guys that we had."
The team certainly hasn't disappointed, as an undefeated run through last week's double-elimination District 16 tournament earned Post 21 a spot in this week's state tournament. The tournament -- also an eight-team, double-elimination format -- begins today, with Post 21 playing host Williamsburg Post 39 in the fourth and final game of the day, which will begin immediately following Game 3 (5 p.m.).
Post 21's trip to Williamsburg marks the first time in the last six seasons that the team has reached the state tournament.
"It's the first time we've been back to the state tournament since 2007 -- there were different coaches then," Smallwood said. "We're definitely excited to be back. It's a nice opportunity for us, and it's a nice opportunity for the kids."
The tournament begins at 10 a.m. with a game between Albemarle Post 74 and Vienna Post 180, with Danville Post 325 and Mechanicsville Post 175 playing immediately after. Roanoke Post 3 and Denbigh Post 368 will square off in Game 3.
There isn't much in the way of scouting reports for Post 21 (18-4) to draw from when preparing for its opponents, but Smallwood said he expects some very tough competition based on where some of the opposing players play their high school ball.
Williamsburg Post 39 (15-1) draws much of its talent from Warhill and New Kent high schools, both of which had solid seasons on the baseball diamond. Warhill advanced all the way to the Group AA state tournament, where it fell to Woodgrove in the quarterfinals.
Post 21 should be plenty familiar with Danville Post 325 should the two teams meet up in the tournament, as Danville's roster contains several players from Tunstall High School, whom Sherando beat in the state championship game.
"From what we've heard, these teams are very, very good. A lot of these teams have had their high school teams in the regional and state tournaments," Smallwood said.
Smallwood said Post 21 is taking 14 players to the Legion state tournament this week, four short of a full roster. Middleburg Academy grad Cody Unger (.432 batting average, team-high 31 RBIs) will be among those absent for this week's slate of games.
Despite Unger's absence, Post 21 should still have plenty of firepower in its lineup, led by current and former Sherando standouts Jacob Carney (.440, home run, 13 doubles, 14 RBIs, 28 runs scored), Chase Smallwood (.397, home run, 20 RBIs), Justin Angel (.327, 15 RBIs), John Bentley (.375, 11 RBIs) and Taylor Loudan (.333, 11 RBIs). Post 21 has outscored its opponents 34-13 over the last four ball games.
Kyle Smallwood said the coaching staff still hasn't settled on who will start on the mound for Post 21 tonight, although he did say it would either be Bentley (2-2, 1.98 ERA, 28 strikeouts, 27 1/3 innings pitched) or James Wood grad Addison Barber (4-0, 1.29 ERA, 28 strikeouts, 28 IP).
"In the district tournament we had to throw both of the them, so whichever one feels best [tonight] will get the call," Kyle Smallwood said.
The state tournament will last until at least Friday, with a game played Saturday if needed. The winner of the tournament advances to the Southeast Region tournament, which is held on Aug. 8-12 in Asheboro, N.C.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org