Last season, a late slump hijacked Stafford Post 290's playoff hopes. This year, Post 290 clinched a playoff spot early on--and then went into a slump.

Stafford reversed its losing trend with a doubleheader victory over Culpeper Post 330 on Saturday. That came after losing three games earlier in the week--twice by one run.

Last season, Post 290 lost seven of its last nine games by one run and missed the playoffs by two games.

"It was kind of like last year," Post 290 Manager Mike Elliott said. "We went in a little swoon. It was the pits. That's how we missed the playoffs. This year it only lasted three games. We were pretty much our old selves in the second game."

In the first game Saturday, Post 290 stranded 12 base runners and almost blew a 7-0 lead but held on to win, 7-6. In the second game, Post 290 left no one on base in a 22-4 blowout.

More than half of Post 290's hits this season have been for extra bases. Mike Goll is hitting over .500, and J.R. Royston is just under .500.

The week started with not much contact.

Post 290 (13-7) lost Tuesday to Manassas Post 114, 2-1; Wednesday to Dumfries Post 28, 3-2; and Thursday to Sterling Post 150, 17-3.

Still, with Culpeper Post 330 in third with a 3-13 record and Spotsylvania having been suspended from the league, Post 290 could afford a few losses. The top two teams in each division qualify for the playoffs.

Elliott said making the playoffs early was a "detriment. It didn't help us. They relaxed a little."

But he is hopeful his team can have a playoff run--it's the only team to beat first-place Fredericksburg Post 55 in 20 games.

An extended losing streak, however, is not a good way to enter the playoffs.

"We really needed a win," Royston said. "In our slump, we were blowing a lot of games because of our defense. If we made a lot of errors, everybody got upset and we didn't play well. You could only come back so many times."

Royston, who said he doesn't want to let his team down, has decided not to attend a baseball camp at the University of Tennessee next week. He hopes to attend a fall showcase tournament there.

In Saturday's 22-4 win, Royston went 5 for 5. With a big lead and with just nine players, Elliott moved players to different positions to keep things interesting.

Catcher Shawn Maye pitched, shortstop Chris Ashinhurst caught, catcher Jon Serrano played right field and right fielder/second baseman David Daugherty played shortstop. Jeff Swidrak had four hits in that game.

Poppert Comes Well-Armed

Players at the Virginia Tech Invitational this past weekend were not familiar with Fairfax Eagles catcher John Poppert. So they learned the hard way: Don't run on Poppert.

The rising Hylton High School senior threw out the only three runners who attempted to steal, and the Eagles captured the four-team tournament. Potomac High School pitcher Steve Gonzalez pitched a complete game in 5-2 win Saturday.

"They quit running on him after a while," Eagles Coach Bill Ramsay said. "That's what happens because he's fast, has pinpoint accuracy, and he's got a cannon of an arm."

Scouts from five colleges "all raved about his defensive ability," Ramsay said. "They think he's major-league quality. If he can improve with the stick, he can play for money someday."

Tournament Begins

The 16th District tournament will begin Saturday at Courtland and Spotsylvania high schools. In bracket one, the Division A champion will play the Division C runner-up, and the Division B winner will play the Division D runner-up.

In bracket two, the Division D champ plays against the second-place Division B team. The Division C winner plays the Division A runner-up.

The tournament will run through Aug. 1.

CAPTION: Kenny Ester delivers for Dumfries Post 28, which split a doubleheader Saturday vs. Woodbridge Post 364.

CAPTION: Woodbridge Post 364's Steve Shanahan scampers back to first base as Dumfries Post 28's Josh McCain awaits the throw during game at Potomac High School.