Post 53, Post 21 ready for district tourney

Front Royal American Legion Post 53's Austin Miller slides into home plate during Wednesday night's game against Leesburg Post 34 in Front Royal. Miller was ruled out on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER — The American Legion District 16 baseball tournament will be held next week and there will be a lot on the line for Front Royal Post 53, while Winchester Post 21 will be playing mostly for pride.

The eight-team tournament starts Wednesday at higher seeds, with the semifinals and finals being played at Bing Crosby Stadium in Front Royal on Thursday and Friday.

Post 21 won the District 16 regular season title, and will be the top seed in next week’s district tournament. Post 21 is also hosting the state tournament at James Wood High School on July 25-30. Post 21 gets an automatic bid into the state tournament, which means it doesn’t matter how they do in next week’s district tournament.

“I’m just proud of them that we accomplished our first goal, which was to be regular season district champs,” Post 21 manager Anthony Hargrove said. “We’re going after goal No. 2 next week, which will be tournament district champs. And then we roll right into states, which is here at James Wood and we want to be state champs.”

The winner of the District 16 tournament will also secure a state tournament bid. If Winchester Post 21 wins the district tournament, the runner-up will advance to the state tournament.

Front Royal American Legion Post 53's Justin King tries to make a one-hand pitch to first on an infield grounder against Leesburg Post 34. King's throw didn't reach first base in time for the out. Rich Cooley/Daily

Front Royal Post 53 is aiming to be the other team advancing.

Post 53 has struggled at times this season, and has a 6-6 record overall. Front Royal manager Rick Almarode said that his team has struggled in close games, losing several games with errors late in games.

“We are playing well, but not well enough I should say,” Almarode said. “We leave too many runners on base. That’s one of the things that has really hurt us this year. I can’t complain with my pitching. My pitching’s done very well. Playing defense and leaving runners on base is the biggest issue that we have and we don’t finish well.”

Due to health issues, Almarode said he hasn’t been able to coach the team this season and has left that to assistants Heath Almarode, Neil Dutton, Hunter Stewart and Mike Wines.

“I got some young kids in there and they are doing a great job,” Almarode said. “So, I’m proud of them and what they’re doing. It’s a different atmosphere this year than it has been with me, and the kids got to get used to that, too. And that’s played a toll a little bit with the team.”

Front Royal American Legion Post 53's Brett Ritter fires a pitch against Leesburg Post 34. Rich Cooley/Daily

Post 53 has been led at the plate by a trio of Strasburg players. Strasburg rising sophomore Corey Keller is batting .481 (13-for-27) in eight games. All 13 of his hits have been singles. He has seven RBIs and has scored five runs.

Strasburg rising senior Austin Miller is hitting .362 (17-for-47) with four triples, two doubles, 13 RBIs and 15 runs scored in 12 games.

Josh Pritchett, a 2017 Strasburg graduate, has played 10 games and is hitting .333 (11-for-33) with four doubles, seven RBIs and six runs scored.

Two Skyline pitchers have led the way for Post 53 on the mound.

Brett Ritter, a 2017 Skyline graduate, has started four games and has an earned run average of 0.99. He has a 1-1 record and has struck out 25 in 27.1 innings

Front Royal American Legion Post 53's Justin King, left, Hunter Wines, center, and Josh Pritchett, right, chat during a time out Wednesday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Skyline rising senior Dillon Sisk has thrown 17 innings and has a 1.06 ERA with 24 strikeouts and a 2-1 record.

“They’ve pitched very well,” Almarode said of Ritter and Sisk. “Those two guys have really kept us in games.”

The District 16 tournament will be a single-elimination tournament this year instead of a double-elimination due to new pitching rules that the league is using. The state tournament is still a double-elimination tournament.

Winchester Post 21 is on an eight-game winning streak and went 12-1 in the district.

Hargrove said the team started off a little slow as some of the players were on vacation. He said once the players started to get into a regular schedule they’ve been jelling really well.

The team has been led offensively by 2017 Millbrook graduate Conor Hartigan, who is playing baseball at James Madison University next year.

“He’s been a great addition to our lineup,” Hargrove said. “He is a devastating bat in the middle of our lineup. He drives our lineup. When he’s in the lineup, it’s like turning the car engine on and it just goes. He’s a great athlete. We’re pleased to have him with us. He’s done well and our lineup goes when he goes.”

Hargrove said 2017 Millbrook graduate Gavin West, Sherando rising senior Frank Ritter and 2017 Millbrook graduate Austin Murphy have also been solid hitters for the team.

Pitching has also been solid for Post 21 this season, and Hargrove said Murphy, Sherando rising senior Tad Dean, 2017 Millbrook graduate Nate Jaye, 2017 Strasburg graduate Cory Clinedinst and 2016 James Wood graduate Cam Goss have all been big contributors on the mound.

Hargrove said the team wants to use the district tournament to get ready for the state tournament.

“We don’t have to have everything line up just perfect,” Hargrove said. “We can do what we need to do to get ready for that first game at states — right now that’s our goal. We want to win that district championship, but we want to have everything lined up to go strong into that state tournament.”