The public address announcer rattled off the names of 17 Rock Hill Post 34 American Legion baseball players Wednesday night.
Only 10 were in uniform lined up on the third base line for player introductions ahead of the state playoff opener against Union. A handful of usual Post 34 starters were in Atlanta for a showcase baseball tournament.
Even Post 34’s head coach, Jeremy McCoy, was out of town on a family vacation planned months in advance. He joked that he would have been in big trouble with his wife if he tried to sneak back early for the first two games of the series. He’s supposed to return to the dugout for Friday’s games.
“It’s piecing a team together when you’ve got guys out of town, doing other things,” said assistant coach Seth Rainey, a former pitcher at Coker College, who filled in as the head honcho Wednesday and Thursday. “We rolled out nine guys that we felt confident with.”
Far from the yellowed olden days when thousands of people would watch legion ball games from county stadium stands and 50 or 60 kids would try out for 18 spots, the modern day American Legion baseball season is often an act of survival. Eighteen kids show up one night and barely enough the next. Many legion teams are only as good as the kids listed near the end of the roster, who are especially needed when others don’t turn up.
D.J. Hartline, Post 34’s lone substitute Wednesday night, leaned on the fence next to coaches Stewart Hunt and Rainey. Early in the second, pitcher Cam Smith ran into trouble so Hunt jogged out to the mound to chat, while Rainey delivered water to the ump. Hartline, a solid contributor to South Pointe’s run to the 4A state finals this spring, stood in the dugout by himself, maybe for the first time in his baseball career. He swung his foot against the dirt until the coaches returned.
Legion baseball recently changed its rules to allow kids to play showcase and legion at the same time, preventing them from having to pick one over the other. Legion baseball usually came out on the losing end when kids and their parents had to make that decision. It still did Wednesday. But who could blame somebody for wanting to play a showcase tournament in front of college and pro scouts?
Post 34 trailed 3-0 in the third inning Wednesday night when a gray avalanche of swirling rain clouds barreled through fans’ eyeline in left field, circling South Pointe’s diamond and eventually flushing a 10-minute deluge of rain onto the players. They scurried to drag the tarp atop the pitcher’s mound and the plate and the game was suspended soon after.
“We’re gonna roll with that nine that started,” Rainey said, referring to which Post 34 players would start Thursday. “It’s only fair that they finish what they started.”
And finish they did. Daniel Lipe, Brock Rodgers and Coby Boan - the only player absent Wednesday that played in Thursday’s first game - all hit run-scoring doubles as Rock Hill fought back to win 7-6.
Mother Nature got the save.
Game 2: Rock Hill 10, Union 5
Rock Hill Post 34’s bats warmed up as the evening wore on Thursday, a 10-5 win over Union the result. The win gave Post 34 a 2-0 lead in its best-of-five first round American Legion baseball state playoff series. Andrew Shipman, Brandon Banks, Rob Hughes and Daniel Lipe all crushed RBI doubles at different points in the game and Dallas Honeycutt pitched a complete game for the hosts. Cameron Smith added a two-run homer for Rock Hill, which can close out the series Friday with a win in Union.
Game 1: Rock Hill 7, Union 6
WP - Daniel Lipe. Leading hitters: Cam Smith 2-4, RBI; Daniel Lipe 1-3, 2 RBI, 2B; Coby Boan 1-2, RBI 2B; Brock Rodgers 1-4, RBI 2B.