By Jeff Nations
Steve Smallwood knows he practically has a surplus of pitching arms this season, if only he could get the chance to test them all out.
Smallwood, back for another season as the head coach of the Winchester Post 21 American Legion Senior team, gained plenty of experience in learning to wait for his team to assemble during last year's state championship season by Sherando High School's baseball team. That school, a primary feeder for the Post 21 team, is back in the state tournament again this week. So is Millbrook, another school that supplies many of Smallwood's players during the summer. Even Strasburg, another state tournament team this week, is having an impact since the Rams' Ian Baker will be playing for the Winchester team when his high school season wraps up by the weekend.
"We've started off 2-1, but we had to cancel the rest of this week's games with Sherando and Millbrook both playing in the state tournament," Smallwood said. "We're down to 10 players without them, and with another one on vacation we're down to nine."
If some combination of Sherando, Millbrook and Strasburg advance to their respective state championship games on Saturday, Post 21 won't have a chance at a full squad until Sunday at the earliest.
But when the team does finally come together, it should be a force at the state level this season. Much of the nucleus from last season's District 16-winning team that finished third in the American Legion state tournament are back, many with college experience now.
"All these guys played last year for us," Smallwood said. "This is probably the best team I've had in the seven years I've been doing it, and we've had some good teams the whole way through."
Current Sherando players Chase Smallwood (catcher/pitcher) and Connor Stevenson (catcher/first base) will be reunited this summer with former teammates Justin Angel (first baseman/pitcher), John Bentley (pitcher/outfield), Jacob Carney (middle infield) and Taylor Loudan (pitcher/middle infielder) on the Post 21 squad. Bentley and Carney both played this past season for Shepherd, while Loudan played both football and baseball at Christopher Newport.
Millbrook chips in brothers Conor and Ryan Hartigan, both outfielders, plus VMI-bound Jacob Jaye (middle infielder/pitcher), Colin Benner (pitcher) and former Millbrook hurler Daniel Nawrocki.
James Wood's contingent includes KaCee Duggan (outfield/second base), Nick Goode (shortstop/outfielder), Kris Malsch (third base/second base) and Carder Smith (pitcher/outfielder).
Rounding out the roster is Clarke County's Jarrett Sowder (outfield/third base), who plans to play at Shenandoah next season, and Handley graduate Brian Thomas.
Steve Smallwood knows his squad, which plays its home games at James Wood's R. Charles Hott Field, will likely go as far as all those pitching arms can take it this season.
Among the rotation options for Post 21 are Angel, Benner, Bentley, Loudan, Chase Smallwood, Smith and Nawrocki.
"The big thing is getting everybody back and get situated and get everybody set in our rotation," Steve Smallwood said. "We try to keep the kids at 75 pitches so we can rotate two pitchers in a nine-inning game, so having nine or 10 guys who can pitch is a plus."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>