CALVERT CITY – It’s almost as if the American Legion junior baseball schedule was set up with prior knowledge, or perhaps a premonition, of the late June-early July heat wave.
The Post 236 team, made up of the underclassmen from the Marshall County High School team, has no games scheduled until the state tournament, slated for July 19-22. The tourney will be played at Mike Miller Park, with William A. Doyle Post 236 as host, for the third year in a row.
A double-header against Lone Oak’s elder summer team was canceled because of excessive heat on June 26. It was rescheduled for June 28 in place of a matchup with Calloway County, which was deleted when the Calloway summer team disbanded, but the heat wave again canceled the games.
A tournament slated for this past weekend at Murray was also a casualty of the heat.
As a result, the Juniors’ regular season slate of games ended June 22. The team compiled an 11-9 record, finishing with a split in a double-header against Owensboro Post 9.
Owensboro is the reigning state champion.
“It’s been a hot summer,” said team spokesman Dennis Foust. “They’ve stuck with it and had a good attitude. I can see a lot of growth.”
Foust, a youth baseball booster and supporter of Marshall County sports in general, is chief circuit judge for Calloway and Marshall counties. He has been assisting Craig Johnson, who is working with the Juniors interim coach in place of MCHS coach Bill Thorpe, who left at the end of the school year to accept a position as principal of Lyon County Elementary School in Eddyville.
The team and its players will use the next two weeks to work out – when temperatures and other weather conditions permit – and, more importantly, get rested from the season, which saw them play as many as eight games – four double-headers – in a week, and four games in three days in the Junior Summer Slam Tournament hosted by Post 236 in early June.
Foust noted that the team’s roster is shaped by the American Legion Junior Baseball maximum age of 17, by the relationship with the high school that limits the squad to MCHS players and by the facts of summer baseball life.
“We’re playing strictly with Marshall County players,” Foust said, in comparison to some other Legion junior teams which draw from a wider geographic area.
“Some of the kids are working. If you take the top nine players, all of them are not going to be there a lot of the time. That’s just the nature of summer ball.”
And although the team is above .500, Foust thinks it may be an even better squad than the won-loss slate indicates.
“Records can be misleading because pitching gets stretched” in the compressed schedule, Foust said. “Kids who don’t normally pitch get called on.”
Dalton Morton, Blake Johnson and Chase Bright are among the position players who have taken their turns on the mound for the Juniors this year.
Injuries took their toll, not only on the Legion team but on the Marshals as well earlier in the spring.
Foust’s son Chandler, who worked his way into the starting lineup for the Marshals as a sophomore and split time between the junior and senior Legion teams in 2011, broke a bone in his leg in the second game of the high school season and is still rehabbing the injury.
Wesley Neal, hobbled as spring workouts began by a knee injury suffered several years earlier, eventually underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) June 15 at Western Baptist Hospital in Paducah.
A third player, Mason Wooten, saw limited Legion baseball action because of summer workouts with the Marshall County basketball team, and then suffered an ankle injury that will make him unavailable for the state tournament coming up.
The injuries hindered the senior team as well, as Foust and Neal would likely have played for the senior squad and in limited action for the junior team as well.
Despite all that, and the transition to a new coaching staff, the Juniors were able to extend their season and build on the experience they gained playing with upperclassmen.
Defense, one of the strong points of the Marshals squad, is a strength of the Post 236 team.
“One thing is, the kids are versatile,” Foust said. “We have several you can put in different positions. If you have to bring in one to pitch, you can find somebody to fill his spot.”
The team has generally kept errors to a minimum through good fundamentals, avoiding mistakes that sometimes result from being out of position or throwing the ball to the wrong spot.
Philosophical points are sinking in as well.
“The younger kids are starting to understand the importance of not giving up that extra base, keeping the double play in order,” Foust said. “So many times, that batter gets the extra base and he scores. You’ve got to make the other team earn those runs.”
Hitting was an Achilles’ heel of the Marshals, but the Juniors have made progress with the bats, Foust said.
“For awhile, we struggled with hitting,” he said. “They’re coming around, putting the ball into play. The last couple of games, they’re scoring some runs.”
Several of the Marshals’ pitchers this spring were upperclassmen, but some younger players got a measure of varsity experience, others honed their skills on the JV team, and that is paying dividends in summer ball.
“Our pitching is solid, not overpowering,” Foust said. “Our pitchers throw strikes and keep the ball down.”
For the most part, they have not had serious control problems that result in excess numbers of walks.
“The times that we have struggled, [control] was a factor,” Foust said.