Ada Post 72 coach Travis Graham would like to see all 15 of his remaining players on the field at least once before the 2011 playoffs are over. To do that, though, the Braves will have to survive until the third day of this week’s American Legion State Tournament.
Despite having at least one starter missing each day, Graham’s club bounced back from a loss to Lawton last Wednesday to reach Saturday’s championship game at the Legion west regional at Rose State College. And when the Braves open the state tournament at 10 a.m. Wednesday against Lawton at Oklahoma City University, at least one of their best offensive players won’t be in the lineup.
Catcher/outfielder Tanner Bell — a Purcell product who was 12-for-23 in five games at the regional with a team-high 13 RBIs — will miss the first two days of the state tournament because he is playing in one of the All-State basketball games in Tulsa Thursday night.
Blake Logan, who has already set a team record with 17 home runs, is also a question mark after being ejected from Saturday’s 13-6 loss to the Oklahoma Outlaws in the regional title game.
Without Bell and/or Logan, the Ada offense — which produced 59 runs in five regional contests — figures to be only a shell of its former self. That could force Graham — whose 33-10 club will enter the state tournament as the No. 2 seed behind the Outlaws for the third straight year — to make some interesting decisions Wednesday and Thursday concerning his pitching staff.
Dalton Pickering, who became the Braves’ No. 2 starter when Logan (5-0) was shut down by his college coach prior to the playoffs, missed the regional with a sore elbow. While Graham is hopeful the Shawnee standout will be back this week, Pickering was still a question mark heading into the final week of the season.
“Ideally, I would have liked to have thrown Pickering in the first game, and he’s still an option,” Graham explained. “So is Matt Johnson (who pitched only three innings in relief at the regional), with guys like Dylan Tinkler, Hunter Marcum and Jake Sanders (Saturday’s starter) in relief.”
Graham said Bell’s absence and the question marks on the mound shouldn’t affect a defense that has committed just seven errors (four in one game) in five postseason games.
“We think we have three of the best catchers in the state in Legion ball (Bell, Tinkler and Pickering) on our team,” Graham noted. “It will hurt not having Tanner’s bat in the lineup. He was red-hot at the regional.
“We do have a pretty versatile team,” he said. “Most of our guys are multi-positional players. Outside of our first baseman (Kade Curry and Moses Isham), all of our guys can play at least two positions.”
while Graham will be without at least one of his top hitters early in the state tournament, he will welcome back another in Tupelo standout Brandon Maggia, who didn’t play at all in the regional and figures to start at third base in Wednesday’s opener, with Tinkler behind the plate in Bell’s absence.
In addition to Maggia and Pickering, the Braves were also without second baseman and leadoff hitter Hunter Marcum in their first-round upset loss to Lawton. Marcum made up for lost time by going 11-for-17 over the next four games with a home run (he and Bell each had a grand slam in Friday’s 17-13 victory over Lawton), five runs scored and eight RBIs.
“We fooled around and lost that first game (18-8), then we battled back to get back to the championship game,” Graham said. “That was an accomplishment because we were spread kind of thin.”
Despite giving up 46 runs during their run through the loser’s bracket to the title game, the Post 72 pitching staff had some good moments. Staff ace Matt Benedict was solid in Thursday’s 12-2 victory over Brassfield, and Isham turned in the most surprising effort of the season in his first-ever Legion start with six shutout innings in a 16-0 win over a good Ardmore club in Friday night’s loser’s bracket final.
Although he gave up nine runs (six earned) against the Outlaws in six innings Saturday, Sanders made some good pitches in big spots and threw double play balls to work out of three big jams while making his first start of the summer.
“Jake did a good job — kept us in the game and that’s all you can ask,” Graham said of Sanders, who trailed just 5-4 before the Outlaws scored four runs (three unearned as the result of the only Ada error of the game) in the top of the sixth. “Some guys got some work last week. They’re not guys we’re necessarily counting on to pitch this week, but they’re guys we can use if we have to.”
One player who could be a difference maker for the Braves this week is Roff’s Jordan Scott. The winning pitcher in the Class A championship game this spring, Scott got off to a slow start this summer, giving up a lot of runs despite winning his first three games. He has been solid in his last four appearances, however, and got the win in relief against Lawton Friday afternoon.
Graham said the absence of Bell and, possibly, one or two other key players early in the week is just the latest obstacle for the Braves, who have persevered through a season laced with injuries and player defections since it began.
“We’re not the only team in this boat,” Graham explained. “In Legion ball, your kids are the better athletes from their schools, and a lot of them will be playing somewhere else during All-State week.
“We’ve been a team that’s had to overcome a lot of adversity, so this is nothing new for us,” he added. “We’ve been pretty resilient.”
LEGION NOTES: While Ada, Lawton, Stillwater, Brassfield and the Outlaws advanced out of the six-team regional in Midwest City, only three teams — championship Bartlesville, runner-up McAlester and host Three Rivers — reached the state tournament out of the regional in Muskogee. Wednesday’s other first-round match-ups in the double elimination event have Bartlesvile against Three Rivers at 1 p.m., Ardmore vs. McAlester at 5 p.m. and the Outlaws — the two-time defending state and reigning national Legion champs — meeting Brassfield in the opening-round finale at 8 p.m. The Ada-Lawton winner will meet either Three Rivers or Bartlesville at 5 p.m. Thursday, and the other winner’s bracket semifinal will be played at 8 p.m.