American Legion baseball provides an opportunity to develop skills with offseason experience before the next spring season arrives. Players representing various schools come together for a steady competition over the summer.
The Cary Bulls, a 17-and-under team representing Cary Post 67, added to that formula this summer over the Fathers’ Day weekend.
Players, coaches and parents traveled for a tournament in Middletown, N.Y., about 75 miles north of New York City. The trip included visiting the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the Freedom Tower built to replace the World Trade Center towers that collapsed from a 2001 terrorists attack.
“It was the first time we tried it, and it was a very successful,” said Bulls coach Pat Kenny. “It was a great bonding experience for the team, and the majority of the parents came with us.”
The Bulls won four of five games to claim the tournament title, and Kenny noted from that point the team played more cohesively. Michael Burns, a Cardinal Gibbons rising junior, was named the tournament MVP and Will Moyar, a Cary Christian rising sophomore, the Most Outstanding Pitcher.
For athletes on a 16-and-under team, Sept. 11, 2001 is a history lesson rather than current events.
“It was great chance to learn about it,” Burns and. “It was very sad to see it, but we learned a lot.”
Cary Bulls (17U)
Other Bulls that were turning in a strong summer are Gibbons rising junior Ben Marshall and Cary Christian rising junior Josh Lallo.
The Bulls and Colts were thrown into “Area I” with mostly teams in northeastern North Carolina.
The Bulls’ late-season surge came within one win of advancing to the Junior American Legion state tournament in Swansboro. In the double-elimination Area I state qualifier, the Bulls fell 4-3 to Bear Grass to end the season.
Cary Colts (16U)
The Colts extended their season to the Junior American Legion state tournament in Swansboro with two wins over Dare County Friday in the Area I state qualifier. The Colts and Bear Grass both earned berths in the state tournament from Area I.
Ryan Mitchell Bagley, an Athens Drive rising sophomore, has led the Colts throughout the season with his play as a catcher, at the plate and his leadership.
“He’s our leading RBI guy and like a coach on the field,” said Colts coach Jeff Barczak. “He’s been a solid player and leader. Our team has been outstanding.”
Barczak said pitching depth has been the strength of the steam with “six to seven” arms.
“No matter who we pitch, they perform,” he said. “We’re not a strong hitting team, but move players along base to base and get good pitching.”
Other players leading the Colts are Green Hope’s Michael Coghlan and Joey Hegeman and Cardinal Gibbons’ Nick Coughenour. The roster includes a rising freshman, Grace Christian’s Jonas Lodholz. The Colts overcame a 3-0 deficit to win behind Lodholz tossing 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball.
The Colts’ promising summer includes beating the older Cary Bulls in a game. For Kenny, the good news is those players will be move up to the Bulls roster the next couple years.
“I’m proud of the season they had and looking forward to the future,” he said.
SENIOR LEGION (19U)
Three Senior American Legion teams are involved in a pair of best-and-five series to earn one of the eight berths in the state tournament. The Garner Nationals were playing Cary Post 67 and Apex Post 124 had Rocky Mount’s Coleman-Pitt Post 57.
The Garner Nationals included strong representation from Middle Creek. Garner is seeking an unprecedented fourth straight Area I West title that earns one of the eight berths in the state tournament.
“We’ve been averaging 10 runs a game, but we’re also a very well-rounded team,” said coach Chris Cook. “We can pitch and we can hit.”
Middle Creek players with strong seasons include graduated seniors Trevor Heasley and Sammy Chapman and rising senior Robbie Frongello.
Apex Post 124
Alex Simpson is one of three brothers representing Apex 124 as college players. Alex will join his older brother Henry Simpson at UNC Pembroke next year, while Henry’s twin brother Phillip Simpson plays at Brunswick Community College. Alex graduated from Holly Springs in 2016 and Henry and Phillip in 2015.
“Alex has had a great season hitting the ball and catching,” Apex coach Tim Harrell said. “To have three brothers playing college baseball is amazing.”
Two other players with college experience are Holly Springs alum Derek Beale at William Peace and Holly Springs alumnus Chase Hetzel at Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, N.C.
“The college players give the program maturity,” Harrell said. “They bring a different work ethic for the younger kids to see.”
Other players with strong summers are two graduated Apex seniors, Ben Highfill and James Hooks.
Cary Post 67
Cary coach Robert Pearse said his team is playing its best baseball of the summer, including a two-game sweep of Durham Post 7 that was topped by a 10-run rule victory.
“We’ve been mashing the ball and coming together,” he said.
Cardinal Gibbons players include graduated seniors Paul Todd, Cam McNabb, Jimmy Russo and Sam Minier. Green Hope graduated senior Drew Hegeman provided a boost once he joined the team late following the Falcons’ run to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state runner-up finish.
“He’s got a power bat,” Pearse said. “He’s had a home run and two doubles in our last two games. This has been a fun bunch of kids to coach. They love baseball and they’re hitting their strides this summer.”