Post 21 program continues to make strides

Winchester Post #21 Conor Hartigan, left, locks helmets with teammate Nate Jaye after Hartigan hit a home run during the third inning of their championship game against Charlottesville Post #74. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER — When Winchester Post 21 manager Anthony Hargrove took over the program over three years ago he envisioned days like Friday — playing for an American Legion state championship. Now he just wants to take his program a step further.

“When (assistant coach Jimmy Swiggett) and I took over about three years ago, we went to the state tournament,” Hargrove said. “We got beat twice and sent home. We came back and said what do we have to do different? The next year we won that first game and then we lost two. And we came back home and said what do we have to do different? This year, we’re state runners-up. We’re going to get together again in February and say what do we need to do to get over that hurdle and next year?”

Post 21 lost in the championship game to Post 74 Albemarle, which has won the state title four out of the last five years.

Post 74 Albemarle has several committed Division 1 college players on its squad, but Hargrove said he was still very proud of the way his players battled against a very good team.

“All these kids are battlers,” Hargrove said. “There was no give up in that dugout. We were here to win.”

Winchester Post #21 Austin Murphy fires a pitch during their championship game against Charlottesville Post # 74. Rich Cooley/Daily

Post 21 showed its toughness throughout the state tournament. After losing the opening game of the double-elimination tournament, by allowing three runs in the bottom of the ninth, Post 21 won four games in a row.

Winchester beat District 16 rival Post 2001 Ashburn on Wednesday, 4-3. Post 21 followed that up with two wins on Thursday. Post 21 knocked off Post 217 Big Island in a 9 a.m. game, and then beat Post 74 Albemarle in a game that didn’t start until 9 p.m.

On Friday morning, Post 21 beat Post 176 Springfield to advance to the championship game.

Post 21 scored 45 runs in three games in a span of 27 hours, but could only muster two runs and four hits in the final.

“I think our guys were just worn out,” Post 21’s Conor Hartigan said. “We played four games in 36 hours, and guys were getting worn out.”

American Legion Post #21second baseman Nate Jaye prepares to put a tag on Springfield Post #176 Kyle Colza on a steal attempt during fourth inning action Friday morning in Winchester. Colza was safe on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

Hartigan, who has committed to play at James Madison University next season, said he really enjoyed being a part of the team this year.

“I love the guys on this team,” Hartigan said. “I love the coaches. They’re all great people, good ballplayers. And I wish them the best.”

Post 21 finished 23-9, and even though they came up a little short, Hargrove said he was very happy with every player on his team.

He said he felt like all the players improved and that’s what it’s all about.

“Each one of those kids will be better when they go back to their high school teams or college teams,” Hargrove said. “I feel like they got a good experience and they’re going to be better for that. And that’s what we want to do here in legion baseball is promote that — and I think we did.”

Winchester Post #21 Cory Clinedinst fires a pitch during their semifinal game against Springfield Friday morning at James Wood HIgh School in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily