Local Sports

Morgantown Post 2 hoping for different result this year at state tournament

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Morgantown Post 2 baseball team will return to the American Legion state tournament this week, and it will be hoping for a different result from last season.

Then, the local sluggers entered the tournament riding momentum from a strong regular season, but froze and bowed out of the double-elimination tournament with two consecutive losses to open the week.

At 1 p.m. today, Morgantown (28-7) will open play in the tournament — held at Potomac State College in Keyser — against Elkins (26-15). Focus and confidence will likely be keys to avoid a two-and-done situation similar to last year.

“We just have to stay consistent with what we’ve been doing this year,” Morgantown manager Tyler Barnette said. “Last year, we went down there and were like a deer caught in the headlights. If we can build on the success we’ve been having we’ll be fine, but if we go down and make mistakes it’ll be a short weekend.”

“Even if we get down, we have to be sure to stick to our game plan and not crumble. Our losses this year have been due to crumbling under pressure,” pitcher Colton Matthews said.

Post 2 defeated Elkins during each of the three matchups between the two programs this season. Barnette expects to see Elkins ace pitcher and West Virginia Tech signee Matt Gainer — a left-handed thrower that’s efficient at limiting scoring opportunities for opposing batters.

“He’s a hard-throwing lefty who is good at throwing guys off balance,” Barnette said. “We’re going to have to make contact with the pitches we can because he’s not going to give us many chances to get the ball into play tomorrow.

“We have to go out and hit the ball like we have this year. We’ve had a couple of weeks where our hitting wasn’t on par, but for the most part it’s been solid, and if we swing the bat I think we’ll be fine.”

With the tournament spanning four days, the team that wins it all is oftentimes the team that best manages its bullpen.

“If our pitchers can get some easy balls and play and throw guys off balance, we’ll be fine,” Barnette said. “We need to force ground balls and get those 21 outs very quickly. The teams that see themselves in trouble in this tournament are the ones that have to go to the bullpen early. If you can keep your pitch count down and keep some depth in the bullpen, you can do well here.”

Pitching depth will likely play to Morgantown’s advantage this week, as it features a deep bullpen. It has five pitchers who have started five or more games this summer and eight pitchers that have seen the mound altogether. As a team, Post 2 manages to pitch just 13 pitches each inning, or less 52 percent of the time.

“Having pitching at this time of year is the best way to succeed. The more you have, the better off you are,” Morgantown pitcher Caleb Taylor said. “If you can get away without going to the bullpen, you’re almost set.”

“Having strong pitching gets you through those first games, but having depth is what will be the best,” Matthews added. “We’re going to be looking at three to six games. You need plenty of pitching for that.”

With a win, Post 2 will advance to play at 4 p.m. today against the winner of Romney and Wheeling. With a loss, it’ll move on to play at 10 a.m. against the loser of South Charleston and Berkeley County.