High School Sports

Rock Hill Post 34 begins legion state title hunt Saturday in Sumter

Because of Rock Hill and Northwestern high schools’ success in the 4A baseball playoffs, Rock Hill’s Post 34 American Legion program got a late start on the summer season.

Mike Scott’s group was together for less than a week before games started flying off the schedule fast and hot. With about 60 percent of the team derived from the Bearcats and Trojans’ programs, Post 34 started predictably slow, winning just one of its first four.

“What I saw from the guys is they really weren’t accustomed to each other,” said Scott. “But I knew they had it in them because these guys had been in a winning environment for a good two months. They ended up 15-5, so that kind of tells you where we went from there.”

Post 34 claimed victories in 14 of its next 16 games, including playoff series wins over Easley – three-game sweep – and Union – a 3-2 series win clinched last weekend – to advance to the final eight of the American Legion state tournament. The event kicks off Saturday in Sumter; Rock Hill opens against Camden at 4:30 p.m.

Scott hopes his three-tool team can stay the course during what will likely be a long, and hot, tournament at Riley Park.

“We’re not gonna be the strongest in any one of those (three phases of the game), but I’m hoping that we’ll play consistent enough to compete against these real good teams, and hopefully pull out a few wins,” Scott said on Wednesday.

Rock Hill has been particularly damaging to opponents with their sticks. No. 3 hitter Trent Autry has been the revelation of the summer, especially on a squad littered with college-bound players. He, along with second baseman and leadoff hitter Chase Williford, are from Chester, but are playing with Post 34 after Chester decided not to field a team. That’s been a blessing for Rock Hill’s program, especially as Autry, a rising senior third baseman, has put up the kind of eye-widening numbers – .541 batting average, nine doubles, 11 home runs, 27 RBIs – that have prompted several scouts to call Scott seeking more information.

“He was under the radar for me personally,” said Scott. “I had heard good things about him and (assistant coach) Scotty Rouse had mentioned to me that he felt like that this particular player was going to be one of our top three guys, and he’s done way more than that.”

Rock Hill High’s All-State outfielder Chase Watts bats second in the order, and he’s hitting .412, while Northwestern catcher Garrett Rast, who’s headed to Winthrop this fall, has also been bashing the ball from the No. 4 slot. Picking up where he left off from the high school season offers no respite in the Post 34 batting order for opposition pitchers.

“I do feel like we have good hitters all through the lineup,” said Scott. “The three you mentioned have been the most consistent and Trent’s been phenomenal. When he goes 2-for-5 with two doubles, you feel like you had a bad night.”

If Rock Hill’s pitching can hang tough in Sumter, Post 34 will be in business. Scott plans to trot southpaw Stuart Hodge out against Camden in the opener. He and fellow former Trojan Will Chitwood have put in work on the mound as the primary starting arms for Post 34 this summer. Autry has also given the team some quality innings.

Post 34’s last trip to the state tournament’s final eight, in 2010 in Columbia, ended with a third-place finish. The Rock Hill team actually beat both of the top-two finishing teams earlier in the tournament, but bowed out after losing the second half of a grueling doubleheader. It’s no stretch to suggest that Post 34 may land in a similar situation again.

“I’m hoping that we focus on the camaraderie, staying loose and really embracing this opportunity to showcase ourselves, and let guys see the winners that have we been all year-long,” said Scott.