Local Sports

Morgantown Post 2 rallies to win American Legion state title

KEYSER, W.Va. — With a three-run first inning and starting pitcher Casey Smith in control on the mound, it appeared the Morgantown Post 2 baseball team would finally be able to eliminate Berkeley Post 14 and claim the American Legion state championship.

Berkeley, quite literally, kept fighting down to their last strike. And then Morgantown did the same.

Post 2 answered a two-run seventh inning rally from Berkeley with a comeback of their own, winning 5-4 in the decisive game of the American Legion state tournament.

“Crazy,” said Post 2 manager Tyler Barnette. “Just a lot of weird stuff but that is the state championship. Both teams played really hard. I just couldn’t be happier with what our guys did.”

Leading 3-2 with two outs in the top of the seventh, Morgantown was one strike away from winning their first state title in eleven years. Berkeley’s Cory Daly hit a high chopper to third base with the potential tying run on second. The throw across the diamond was wild and Kyle Farmer scored to tie the game at 3-3.

Taylor Tennant followed that up with an RBI single to score Daly as Berkeley took their first lead of the game 4-3.

It was Morgantown’s turn to rally. Caleb Taylor and Colton Matthews led off the bottom of the inning with back-to-back singles. Devon Neal walked and Post 2 had the bases loaded with nobody out. After Gavin Cottle was retired, Clay Maholic was hit by a two-strike pitch. Taylor scored to tie the game at 4-4.

After Berkeley changed pitchers, the next pitch sailed to the backstop. Matthews scampered home from third with the winning run as Post 2 players poured out of the dugout.

“A couple of bad things happened but they didn’t get down on themselves,” Barnette said. “They came back and battled.”

Morgantown jumped out to a 3-0 first inning lead as their first three batters all scored. Taylor got the scoring started with a two-run homer. “I didn’t think it was going to go over,” Taylor said. “I was just trying to do a job and get the runner to third. But it ended up going over the fence. You can’t be too upset with that.”

Taylor’s status to play in the final game was uncertain as he battled a virus Saturday.

“He was in the hospital last night. Some antibiotics, some rest and he starts the game off with a two-run homer,” Barnette said.

“Last night, they kept telling me I wasn’t going to play,” Taylor said. “I said I am playing. It doesn’t matter what, I am playing.”

Post 2 starting pitcher Casey Smith allowed just one hit in the first four innings before Berkeley responded with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Smith struck out seven batters in six innings of work. “We knew that if it came down to this (decisive game), he had the ball and was ready to go,” Barnette said. “I have never seen so much focus out of a guy before. Especially a young guy, a sophomore.”

Hunter Coe delivered an RBI single in the fifth for Berkeley (23-10) and Dylan McCartney followed with a sacrifice fly in the sixth, setting the stage for their rally in the seventh. Berkeley fielded a roster of just nine players and Post 14 won four consecutive elimination games to force the winner-take-all contest. They rallied to defeat Morgantown 6-5 in 12 innings Saturday to force the decisive matchup.

“We lost that first game (1-0 to South Charleston), and then we just played with our backs to the wall and nothing to lose,” Berkeley Post 14 manager Tripp Tobin said. “The kids just scrapped. They were pushed into a corner and fought their way out all the way to the bitter end.”

Morgantown (33-8) claimed their 13th state title and Post 2 will represent West Virginia in the Mid-Atlantic regional tournament in Asheboro, N.C. They will face Delaware state champion Canal Post 25 in the tournament opener Wednesday morning.

“We are where we want to be,” Barnette said. “We’re the best team in the state. Now it is time to go down there and compete. We have been to the regional before as players. What we have seen is that teams say, ‘Oh, West Virginia is here. Let’s ten-run them and get out of here.’ This isn’t going to be that type of team. We want to represent the state well at the regional.”