By Josh Brown
TROY — Troy Post 43 didn’t relinquish its American Legion Region 2 championship without a fight.
But in the end, Sidney Post 217’s experience was simply too much.
Troy (21-22) forced a winner-take-all regional title game for the second straight year by handing Sidney an 8-6 defeat on Saturday night, Post 217’s first loss to a WOL foe all season. But a three-run double by Cam Clark in the fifth put Sidney in the driver’s seat, and Brett McEldowney struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth to hold off Troy for an 8-6 victory Sunday night at Duke Park — a win that propels Sidney into the Ohio State Legion Tournament.
“We came through the league undefeated, won all six ballgames in the regular season. Piqua’s got a good team, as does Troy, and we run-ruled both of them to start the regional tournament,” Sidney Post 217 coach Jim Koewler said. “We’d already beaten Troy three times, but trying to beat someone a fourth time is tough. Saturday night, we left 11 guys on — eight of them in scoring position — and we just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it. But we’ve got a good, solid baseball team, too, and tonight we showed what we could do.”
“They have three All-Ohio pitchers, and we had to mix and match our pitchers a couple nights in a row,” Troy Post 43 coach Frosty Brown said. “Our kids did everything we asked them to, and we played well both Saturday night and tonight. But we still had some baserunning mistakes, and that comes from our inexperience.”
Troy opened the tournament with a win over Greenville then lost 10-0 to Sidney, which had routed Piqua to start things off, knocking both into the losers’ bracket. Troy eliminated Piqua with a win and, needing two straight wins over Sidney, got the first of those on Saturday night.
Post 43 began Sunday’s game strong, as well, getting a two-out RBI double by Kieran Williams in the bottom of the first to claim a 1-0 lead. Sidney’s starter Clark induced a pop to short with the bases loaded to get out of that inning without further damage, though, and Troy left the bases loaded again in the second but still led by one.
Troy starter Chris Heisey sat down the first six batters he faced but ran into trouble in the third by issuing a pair of walks. Austin McLain then blooped a game-tying double in front of a diving Post 43 center fielder, but reliever Hunter Cohee got out of the inning with the score still tied 1-1.
Then came on of Troy’s more costly mistakes.
Williams doubled again to lead off the bottom of the third, followed by a two-out single by Noah Roswell. Troy attempted a delayed double steal , but Sidney was able to apply the tag at second before the run could score, and the game remained tied.
“Our baserunning mistakes really affected us tonight, and that’s a direct result of our inexperience,” Brown said. “Not being able to get bunts down, not advancing when the ball is hit behind the runner, not being able to get the run in on a double steal — all of those little things added up. Baserunning mistakes cost us two runs, and it was a two-run game.”
Sidney took the lead in the top of the fourth on a two-out RBI single by Jackosn Hobbs, but Troy again fought right back in the bottom of the inning. Keaton Mohler reached on an error and Brandon Nesbitt and Greg Peffley hit back-to-back infield singles to load the bases once more, and Michael Hale drew a bases-loaded walk to bring in the tying run. Clark struck out the next two batters and had a two-strike count on Cory Cotrell, but Cotrell hit an RBI infield single deep in the hole at short to keep the rally going. Another bases-loaded walk to Ethan Garland gave Troy a 4-2 lead before Sidney finally got out of the jam.
But in the top of the fifth, Post 217 took control for good.
McLain hit a one-out single, then Kyle Subler reached on a two-out error. A walk loaded the bases, and Clark drilled a bases-clearing double to the gap in right-center field to erase the two-run deficit and give Sidney the lead with one swing.
“That was a big hit,” Koewler said. “Cam’s been delivering like that all season. And when it’s not him, it’s McLain or McEldowney or anyone else. When we’ve needed a big hit, someone has delivered pretty much all season — and that definitely was a big one.”
Sidney made it 6-4 by scoring on an error in the sixth, then a seventh-inning RBI single by McEldowney and an eighth-inning RBI sac fly by Dakota Bollinger made it an 8-4 game. And in the meantime, reliever McEldowney — who had taken over in the fifth inning — was cruising, having retired the first eight batters he faced. But a leadoff single by Peffley, an RBI triple by Hale and an RBI groundout by Cohee kept Post 43 alive, trailing only 8-6 heading into the final inning.
With Troy needing only one baserunner in the bottom of the ninth to bring its dangerous top of the lineup back to the plate, McEldowney struck out the bottom three of the lineup to close the game out.
“McEldowney’s just been unbelievable for us this summer,” Koewler said. “He pitched the first game of the tournament against Troy for us up at Greenville. Our hope tonight was that Cam could keep the game close, maybe even with the lead, and get it to McEldowney, and it all worked out.”
“Our strikeout totals were too high again,” Brown said — Sidney pitchers struck out eight Post 43 batters in the game. “Our season total again just shows our inexperience. We were trying anything to get the top of the lineup back up.”
Post 43 — which won two straight regional titles, finished as the Ohio State Legion runner-up last year and went to the program’s first national regional tournament — will finish its season this week at the NABF World Series in Youngstown, where play begins on Thursday.
“We won eight of our last 12 games and keep showing signs that we’re getting better,” Brown said. “We played well the past two nights against Sidney.”
Sidney, meanwhile, advances to play in the Ohio State Legion Tournament in Lancaster.
“We’ve got a good solid baseball team, and we’re going to go to Lancaster and hopefully open some eyes just like Troy did last year,” Koewler said. “We want to show those teams the kind of baseball we play here in this part of the state.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.