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Sad. So, so sad.
The description is hardly flattering in regards to the Wilson American Legion baseball season ending abruptly last Wednesday.
Post 13, with a roster that had dwindled from 19 to just nine players, defied the inevitable for several games.
Then, it happened in the opening game of the Area I East Division best-of-five semifinals series. A season-ending injury (Austin Slate’s broken left hand) left the Wilson team with just eight players.
Post 13 was unable to field the necessary starting lineup of nine players and, thus, forfeited the remainder of the series to regular-season top finisher Kinston Post 43. Season over for Wilson.
Let’s be real. Wilson could have won a game, maybe two, in the series, but it was not going to win the series against a talented, deep and seemingly hungry Kinston team.
Eventually, despite the grit and resolve, Post 13’s noted final nine would be left frazzled and weary. Nine is not enough to keep playing — much less win championships.
Issues with numbers — or the lack of them — have become a familiar malady for Wilson American Legion baseball the last few seasons.
Blame the time of the year, summer vacations and certainly the lack of pride and commitment.
It’s disturbing to suggest Legion baseball in Wilson has fallen into the same category with Edenton, Ahoskie and Windsor — when it can assemble enough players to even start the season.
Kinston, Wayne County, Pitt County and Farmville manage to maintain sizable rosters and currently form the East Division’s top echelon.
More than nine are needed to play into the dog days of August.
Despite the sad ending, Post 13’s final nine left a lasting and most favorable impression. This mix of athletes from numerous high school and college programs exemplified the spirit and intent of American Legion baseball
Seldom was a complaint heard. The players encouraged, supported, complimented and applauded one another. The expression is cliche — perhaps trite — but, as head coach Noah Edens and assistants Matt Ballance and Derek Matthews frequently noted, they played hard.
They couldn’t depend upon motivation from large crowds. That didn’t happen. The presence of some 50 spectators was about average.
SALUTING FINAL NINE
Saluting the final nine:
— Tanner Sullivan, a recent Fike High graduate, provided dynamic leadership. His presence was uplifting to his teammates. The fact Sullivan is ending his baseball career is unfortunate for some program out there.
He swung a potent bat, played excellent defense at first base and, as a left-handed pitcher, possessed adequate stuff and guile to contribute as a specialist.
— Dom Gaetano, from this viewpoint, ranked as the premier East Division shortstop. Some of the plays he made and the strength of his throwing arm astounded at times. As a pitcher, the right-hander was effective as a starter and reliever. He was probably the hardest thrower on the staff. Gaetano was also an offensive force and comfortable fit in the lead-off spot. He should be a tremendous asset at Wake Tech next season.
— Josh Fuller, a Hunt High product along with Gaetano, emerged as Post 13’s most consistent and overall effective pitcher — whether starting or relieving. When not pitching, the “silent one” solidified the infield defense at third base. With the bat, Fuller went on a late-season tear. He could be counted upon for multiple hits about every game. He will continue to progress at NCAA Division III Haverford College in Philadelphia.
— Ty Narron, who starred at North Johnston High, was simply a tough out. Defensively, he played several positions and could be counted upon to make the routine plays. He was a threat to steal a base. Narron’s signature was the praise he received as a team player.
— Lamar Ellis played each outfield position and could be depended upon at each. A product of Rocky Mount High, Ellis displayed savvy for the game. He possessed ample speed and his offensive prowess blossomed in the postseason.
— Trey Dail, a recent Hunt graduate, was a positive as a corner outfielder. He could also play center fielder. Dail, the son of former Post 13 head coach Rusty Dail, gained confidence as a hitter and was a willing base runner. He would take chances. He expressed a disdain for losing. Dail’s development will continue at Rockingham Community College.
— Jackson Terry, upon returning late in the season, jumped behind the plate and caught every inning the rest of the way. He struggled with his timing with the bat but proved a solid receiver and thrower. Terry, a 2018 Fike graduate, provided welcome relief for Slate behind the plate.
— Austin Slate enjoyed his American Legion season after trying to be the rock for a Beddingfield High team that failed to win a game his senior year. Post 13’s thin catching ranks limited his opportunities to pitch. The 6-foot-5 right-hander gained confidence on the mound but, offensively, was always tough on himself.
— Adam Pendergrass, last but not least. At age 19, he joined the team the final week of the regular season at the urging of his grandfather, Post 13 athletic officer Bob Walston. Pendergrass blended well.
Playing organized baseball for the first time since middle school, Pendergrass steadily improved. He was the starting pitcher in the first game of the second round of the playoffs. He became more comfortable at the plate. Edens just wishes he had been available at the season’s outset in early May.
With an ample number of performers of the caliber and with the character of the final nine, hope exists for American Legion baseball in Wilson.