The Ada Post 72 Braves enter the home stretch of the regular season Wednesday, hosting Stillwater in a doubleheader that will kick off a stretch of eight games in seven days leading up to next week’s American Legion regional tournament in Midwest City.
Ada, 26-8 after going 3-1 at last week’s American Wood Bat Invitational in Blue Springs, MO, and beating the eventual tournament runners-up, the Associated Fire Titans, 4-3 in 12 innings Saturday night, will play six of their final eight games at East Central University.
After Wednesday’s twinbill, the Braves will travel to McAlester for another doubleheader Friday, and they will close out the regular season at home Monday and Tuesday — Monday against Okmulgee and Tuesday in a three-way with the Oklahoma City Ambassadors and a team from Burkburnett, Tex. The doubleheaders Wednesday, Friday and Monday will begin at 4 p.m., and Tuesday’s action will start at 2 p.m.
“We have a chance to answer some questions right now,” said Post 72 coach Travis Graham, whose club finished in a three-way tie for the top spot in its pool last week but lost the tiebreaker (runs scored) to the Titans. “We get a chance to see some teams we’ll see later on, and our pitchers have a chance to get their throwing in without getting worn out. We can fine-tune some things to make sure we’re hitting on all cylinders for the playoffs.”
One Post 72 pitcher who could probably use a little rest is righty Blake Logan, who followed up a 128-pitch, eight-inning effort in a victory over Ardmore six days earlier in the championship game at the Brad Holt Memorial with a 154-pitch, 10-inning performance Saturday night while getting a no-decision. Logan struck out a total of 37 batters in those two games, including 22 Saturday, and has struck out 68 in his last 32 innings.
Logan’s effort capped a solid week for the Post 72 pitching staff, which surrendered just 14 runs in 33 innings. Matt Benedict (5-2) allowed only two hits in a 6-3 loss on Wednesday that eventually cost the Braves the top spot in their pool, but he came back to earn his fifth win of the season Saturday night in relief of Logan. Dalton Pickering (4-1) and Jordan Scott (4-0) were solid in victories Friday.
Offensively, though the Braves were inconsistent. They managed just five hits in Wednesday’s loss and only two — Logan’s two-run home run and Hunter Marcum’s game-winning infield hit in the top of the 12th — in their 12 at-bats Saturday.
“The tournament showed up some holes in our lineup — the bottom of the order hit into some double plays — but the competition was good,” Graham said. “We beat some good teams, and I think we gained a lot. Hopefully we’ll benefit from the experience over the next two weeks.”
Although the Braves won’t host one of the two regional tournaments to be held next week in Midwest City and Muskogee, they will be the top seed in the five-team regional in Midwest City (joining Ardmore, Brassfield, Lawton and McAlester). In previous years, zone tournaments were held to pick state tournament teams, with the host team getting an automatic bid; this year, though, three teams will advance from Midwest City and four will come out of Muskogee to join the Midwest City-based Oklahoma Outlaws (the defending state and national Legion champion and this year’s host) at the state tournament July 27-31 at Oklahoma City University.
Although his club is 0-3 against the Outlaws this summer and hasn’t beaten the two-time defending state champs since the 2009 state tournament, Graham said this year’s Legion state tournament should be a much more competitive affair than it was in 2010, when the Outlaws cruised to the title.
“I feel like everybody is somewhat close this year,” he said. “Everybody has pitchers they can count on; a lot of it is going to come down to our offensive production and our defense. It’s always easier to pitch when your offense is making your margin for error not so fine.
“I like that we got the top seed (at the regional, which gives the Braves a bye in the first round),” Graham noted. “We’ve beaten Ardmore four out of five this year, and we get a chance to play McAlester (which rallied from a 9-0 deficit to beat the Braves, 17-16, in the second week of the season) before the regional.”