MORGANTOWN — Morgantown Post 2 is no stranger to the West Virginia American Legion baseball state tournament, but in recent years the team struggled to seal the deal on the state’s biggest stage.
Post 2 coach Tyler Barnette can recall the last time the program earned the state title, advancing to the American Legion regional tournament. The year was 2008, and Barnette was finishing up his final season as a player for the club — long before coaching crossed his path.
Now, on the eve of the decade anniversary of that win, Barnette leads what is perhaps Post 2’s most successful squad in recent memory to St. Albans for the 2018 tournament. Lying before him is an opportunity to return Post 2 to the national stage of Legion baseball — and to secure his first title as a head coach, wearing the same colors he did when he grabbed that brass ring as a player.
“It would be special, but I think it would mean more to these kids than anything else,” Barnette said. “Legion baseball is a grind — you play the best players in the state, and the best players all-around. You’re playing every day in the hottest weather of the year. It’s a grind, and to make it as far as these kids have this year, it’s special. We don’t want to stop here.”
Post 2 enters the tournament on a three-game win streak following a loss in the regular season finale, to state tourney foe and Area 4 champion Romney. Over the course of the streak, Post 2 outscored opponents, 28-4, en route to the Area 2 title.
“We played great in the area tournament. We did everything we needed to do,” Barnette said. “The scoring was a really big deal — when you can swing the bat like that and have good enough defense to limits teams to three runs over three games. It’s not like we faced bad teams, either. This is the best area in the state, I believe.”
As a program, Post 2 has cultivated a unique persona compared to years past. This summer, the team appeared to be a well-oiled machine, with all 18 members of the roster filling whatever role needed to be filled. A heavy-hitting team at the plate with a pack mentality on the diamond, Post 2 made it quite the challenge for opponents to slow the scoring, or to get hits past a defense that operates as one rather than nine.
“There are a lot of things that this team does differently than others in the past, and I think that’s what makes them unique. It’s hard for me to pinpoint. It’s a unique group of players,” Barnette said. “One of the things is the accountability factor. Every kid on these teams feels like they’re accountable for the other 17. That’s big.”
The mentality in the dugout proved successful, as Post 2 enters this week 31-7. Now, they kno they need to “play their game,+ as they describe it, to keep the success rolling.
“I think we just need to do what we can do. All 18 players have a job that they need to do each game, and if everyone does their job, I don’t think there are many teams in the state that can beat us,” Post 2 first baseman Andrew Berry said.
For pitcher Cam Stoldt, it’s simply a matter of focus — he knows his team knows what to do, and how to do it. They just need to keep their eye on the prize and execute.
“We just need to play ball that we know how to play and keep our heads on straight and I think we’ll be fine,” he said. “There aren’t really any nerves. You just have to treat it like another game.”
Post 2 will kick off tournament play Aug. 1, taking the diamond against Elkins at 5 p.m.
“We’ve beat them this year, and they’ve beat us. When you’re down here, what you’ve done earlier in the year doesn’t matter,” Stoldt said. “What matters is what happens here. We just have to play our game. We can’t get wrapped up in what the other teams do. We have our own set of goals and objectives, and we have to go out and play baseball the way we know how. We’re going to be fine if everyone just does what they know how to do.”
For a team that has put in the extra effort all summer, the ultimate goal is now at most five games away — potentially just four. Hopes are high in the dugout, and everyone wants to secure the win for the others in the program.
“I think it would be awesome for this team and this program. Tyler has never won one, and we all want to win it for him,” Berry said. “Each player wants to win it for each other as well. That’s been our goal throughout the season, and it’d be awesome if we could get it.”
Now, as Post 2 prepares for one of the biggest weeks of the season, the focus is clear-cut and simple: Bring some championship hardware back to Mylan Park.
“I think it would be awesome, and it would be quite a story to be on the team that brings that back to Morgantown,” Stoldt said.