Ada’s Post 72 Braves finally got an offensive performance to match the one turned in by their pitching staff all week and stormed into the semifinals of the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational with an impressive 9-1 run-rule victory over Parkville (Mo.) Post 318 Saturday morning.
The Braves — winners of six of their last seven games — moved six games above .500 (at 22-16) for the first time this summer and are now one of just four teams still alive in the 40-team tournament. Ada will play an 11 a.m. semifinal contest this morning and, with a victory, will move on to the championship game at 2 p.m.
“Right now, we’re in a good situation,” Post 72 coach Travis Graham said after Saturday’s victory. “We’re in the top four of 40 teams, but our goal is to win this thing. I’ve got all my guys ready to pitch, so we should be able to get 14 solid innings in on Sunday.”
With his top two starters — Chandler’s Jon Gray and Roff’s Blake Logan — re-joining the team this week after missing nine games in late June, Graham has been able to work — but not overwork — his entire pitching staff during the week. As a result, Ada hurlers will enter Sunday’s semifinal having allowed just two earned runs in five tournament games.
Gray, who tossed four shutout innings in Ada’s victory over Papillion, Neb., Thursday, is expected to start Sunday’s first game, with Logan — the losing pitcher in Thursday night’s controversial 4-3 loss to Post 189 from Lee’s Summit, Mo. — available to start the championship game.
Blake Wheat (6-2), the staff leader in wins, continued his impressive late-season surge in Saturday’s victory. The former Byng ace struck out three and didn’t walk a batter while allowing three hits and one unearned run in four innings to post his fourth straight win. Lefty Jordan Boone pitched a perfect fifth, then the Braves scored a run in the bottom of the inning to end the game on the run rule.
“Early in the game, Wheat got behind in the count, but he got more comfortable as the game went on,” Graham said. “When (Parkville) did hit a ball hard, they hit it right at one of our guys.”
While Parkville managed just three singles off Wheat, the Ada offense had its best day of the tournament with 10 hits and nine runs — six of them in a fourth-inning outburst that broke the game open.
Leading just 2-1, the Braves bunched four hits in the fourth, with Tanner Bell’s bases-clearing triple the big blow. Hunter Marcum reached on an error to start the rally, Jake Sanders followed with a single, and Saulyer Saxon doubled to plate Marcum. Sanders scored the fourth Ada run on a passed ball, and after Saxon was thrown out trying to steal third, Ryan Stoup walked, Tim Wallen singled and Logan walked to load the bases.
Bell followed with his triple to make it 7-1, and Shakir McCillip (running for Bell, the Ada catcher) scored his second run of the game on an error.
After banging out nine hits in their first four at-bats, the Braves ended the game rather quietly in the fifth. Sanders led off with a single, then three of the next four Ada hitters drew walks, with a free pass to Logan forcing home the run that ended the game on the run rule.
In addition to providing the big hit in the fourth, Bell also started a two-run rally in the second inning that gave the Braves the lead for good. He singled and was replaced on the bases by McCillip, who stole second. Matt Johnson walked and Jesse Cashman was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Marcum’s sacrifice fly scored McCillip to make it 1-0. Sanders walked to re-load the bases, and Ryan Stoup drew another walk — this one with two outs — to force home the second run in the inning.
Sanders, who had a key two-run single in a victory over Post 642 from Sedalia, Mo., Friday that lifted the Braves into the quarterfinals, and Bell had two hits apiece to pace Ada’s 10-hit attack.