Legion teams ready for tournament

Winchester Post 21 is back in familiar territory heading into this week’s American Legion District 16 baseball tournament.

For the third consecutive year, Post 21 enters the tournament as District 16’s top seed, as Winchester rolled to a 12-1 district record to claim the regular-season title.

Post 21 manager Steve Smallwood credited Winchester’s pitching staff with leading the team to its 14-3 overall record in 2015, and Post 21 figures to lean on pitching and defense throughout the five-day, double-elimination tournament.

“Our pitching staff has been doing well this year,” Smallwood said Monday afternoon. “They’ve really held us together with Alex Dobry, Ty Michaud, Chase Smallwood and Michael Tinsman. Those have been the four workhorses for us.”

Steve Smallwood said that quartet capped Post 21’s regular season on a high note on Sunday, as those four pitchers combined to shut out Stafford Post 290 Americans in a 1-0 victory. They will look to continue that success beginning on Tuesday with a 7 p.m. home game at Sherando High School against No. 8 Stafford Post 290 Nationals, a team Post 21 didn’t see during the regular season.

“We didn’t get to play them, they didn’t have enough players, but they always seem to bring a few ringers with them when the district tournament starts so we’ll see how that pans out,” Steve Smallwood said.

The top four seeds in the district earned home games on Tuesday, while the remainder of the tournament will be played at Sherando High School beginning on Wednesday.

Front Royal Post 53 (10-8) also earned a spot as the home team on Tuesday evening, as it claimed the third seed in the district tournament and is scheduled to play No. 6 Remington Post 247 at 7 p.m., although the District 16 website listed the game site as “tentative” on Monday evening.

Front Royal and Remington split two head-to-head meetings during the regular season.

Post 53, which handed Post 21 its only district loss of the season, enters the tournament with a team batting average of .330, with 2015 Skyline High School graduate Robert Presley (.512) and Warren County High School rising senior Joseph Rutherford (.453) leading the way. Central High School’s Corey Sibert (one home run) and Warren County grad Eric Baker lead Front Royal with 12 and 11 RBIs, respectively.

As a team, Post 53 has pitched to a 3.70 ERA, with Skyline graduate Sterling Jennings leading the staff with a 3-0 record, a 2.45 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched.

Post 21 has found better success on the mound, as Winchester boasts a 2.13 team ERA. Dobry leads the staff with his five wins and 37 strikeouts in 32.2 innings pitched. Dobry (1.38 ERA), Sherando graduates Chase Smallwood (0.57 ERA) and Michaud (2.38 ERA) and Michael Tinsman have combined for 94 strikeouts in 91.1 innings.

Offensively, Post 21 is batting .292 as a team while being led by Zach Thompson (.437) and Tinsman (.391). Jordon Turner leads Winchester with nine RBIs and 10 runs scored.

“We’re going to have to hit the baseball,” Steve Smallwood said. “Our defense has been pretty solid this year. That’s what’s kept us in ballgames is our pitching and our defense.”

Steve Smallwood said Winchester’s hitting hasn’t been where he’d like it to be this summer, and he attributed a lot of Post 21’s struggles at the plate to a lack of consistency due to poor weather.

“We just haven’t had any games where you could play consistently all week long. … We had 12 games we had to end up rescheduling and it just took a lot of the continuity and reps away,” he said.

“For the limited field time that we’ve had because of the weather, our defense has held up pretty well. Now we’ve just got to hope we get on a hitting streak, a hot streak.”

Smallwood added that Post 21, which was eliminated from last season’s District 16 tournament in three games, will play this week without Adam Whitacre (college) and KaCee Duggan (vacation), and Connor Stevenson (.286, five RBIs, six runs scored) will miss the first half of the tournament.

“We’re hoping to get a little bit of a run going and maybe get back to the championship,” Steve Smallwood said. “We made it to the semifinals last year and hopefully we can make a run here, try to get something going.”

Front Royal Post 53 manager Rick Almarode couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com