It took a second summer of Junior American Legion baseball, but Christopher “Troy” Strange answered the cries of those who wondered why he agreed to follow a legend as head coach of the Cary Post 67 Bulls.
“People said, ‘You’re crazy or stupid to try and follow Ron Powell,’ ” Strange recalled upon taking the helm following seven years as Powell’s assistant.
Here’s his answer: The Bulls won the Junior American Legion Area I title in his second try. The Bulls clinched with a 3-1 win over the Cary Colts, their intra-post rival, on Sunday at Legion Field.
“I guess you could say I’m a little of both,” Strange said of the crazy and stupid charges. “It’s not easy to follow a legend, but Ron ran a system and it’s still in place. You can’t recreate it exactly -- because he’s not here anymore -- but you try to do things the same way.”
The Bulls advanced with the No. 1 seed from the Area I state qualifier to the eight-team state tournament that starts Friday at Athens Drive.
Ahoskie beat the Colts in Sunday’s nightcap with a 6-4 victory that eliminated the Colts and earned the state No. 2 seed. Ahoskie opted not to test the Bulls on Monday for the No. 1 seed. Ashoskie would have needed a two-game sweep to clinch the No. 1 seed against the Bulls’ fresher lineup.
“We feel good about our chances in the state tournament,” said Bulls right-fielder Seth Cannon, an Athens Drive rising senior who was 2 of 3 with one run scored and one RBI. “We’re deep – that’s the biggest thing.”
In the winner’s bracket final, the Bulls scored single runs in the first, second and third. The play was erratic in the first three innings, but Cardinal Gibbons rising junior Marc Todd took the mound in the fourth.
The JV pitcher last spring looks ready for varsity in 2015 as he tossed four innings of no-hit ball while facing only 13 batters. Todd retired the Colts in order in the fourth, fifth and sixth before he walked the leadoff batter in the seventh and then got the next three batters.
“I just wanted to throw strikes, put it in play and let my defense do the work,” Todd said.
With two teams dropping out of the bracket, the Bulls needed only an 11-0 win over Manteo on Saturday and Sunday’s clinching victory.
The Colts defeated Wilson 9-5 and Chapel Hill 7-6 on Saturday before Sunday’s two losses.
“We had an amazing season,” said Colts coach Andrew Holtgrewe. “We’re basically a 16-and-under team playing against 17-and-under teams.”
Holtgrewe highlighted the play of Cardinals Gibbons rising junior catcher Sam Minier and Athens Drive rising sophomore shortstop Kenny Venditti.
“Sam was the heart and soul of this team as a leader,” he said. “Kenny was another leader for us. I’m proud of all these guys for how they competed against older players.”