For much of the summer, Forest Park rising junior David Miller has wondered whether he belongs on an American Legion baseball team, playing with and against older guys, including some from college programs.
Another twinge of uncertainty might have nagged at the Dumfries Post 28 utility man in the bottom of the sixth inning Thursday night at Forest Park, when he stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in a tie game against the Euclid Diamond Dawgs.
Coming through with what turned out to be the game-winning single in the 6-5 victory made him feel more at home than any words of encouragement he had heard all season from his coaches and teammates.
"I'm probably the youngest and smallest kid out here, so it's really intimidating, but you get used to it," Miller said. "Especially coming up with hits like that, it makes it a lot easier.
"When I first got here, I didn't think I belonged at all. But I've been hitting real good this year and now I'm kind of starting to feel like I belong."
A junior varsity player during the spring, Miller played shortstop on Thursday, with J.T. Gregory out of town and Kyle Spanik still working his way back from a dislocated shoulder he suffered in the Legion opener. Miller has good speed, is versatile enough at the plate to bat second and can play a variety of positions. But he is young.
"I tried to assure him that he can play with these guys," said Post 28 Coach Ted Lyons, who coached Miller on the Forest Park junior varsity. "[The hit] will build his confidence. I'm sure he got a few pats on the back when he came through there."
The winning rally started in unlikely fashion in the bottom of the sixth, when Bryan Hailstone popped up a bunt along the first-base line that diving Euclid pitcher Bobby Anthony could not quite snag. "I wasn't very happy when I saw it go up," said Hailstone, who stole second and went to third on Kevin Nally's sacrifice.
Anthony fanned the next batter for the second out of the inning, but pinch hitter Julio Stehlin bounced a run-scoring single up the middle to make it 5-5. Chris Cirillo, a late game replacement at catcher, followed with another single, and James Stehlin walked to load the bases. Miller then stroked his hit to left.
Reliever Ryan O'Donnell retired all seven batters he faced to notch the win, thanks in part to a diving grab by left fielder Mike Jabs to end the fifth and a running catch in center by Nally to start the seventh.
It came as no surprise in the Post 28 dugout that Julio Stehlin and Cirillo produced off the bench. Key hits by substitutes have been a trademark during the team's 9-3 season.
"We look for the magic," Lyons said. "It doesn't matter who it is, it's just whoever. They sit in there and they wait for their opportunities or a turn or whatever you want to call it."
"It's happened a lot," said Julio Stehlin, who late in the game hit off the tee in the batting cage to prepare for his one at-bat. "Everybody gets their turn to sit on the bench. We're always hungry to get in, and when we get in, we hit the ball."
James Stehlin staked Dumfries to a 4-0 lead with one out in the second inning when he planted Anthony's initial offering over the left field fence for the first grand slam of his career, at any level. But between then and the sixth, the only player to reach base off Anthony was a batter he hit.
Anthony doubled in a run in the third, and consecutive two-out hits by Andrew Rust, Bill Thompson, Christian Frey and Dennis Pierce in the fourth yielded two runs to make it 4-3.
Euclid (12-6) took the lead in the fifth. Anthony led off with a single, Bobby Collier reached on an error and Marco Uribe singled to load the bases. Rust drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and Collier scored on a wild pitch by Post 28 starter Joel Davidson.
Dumfries has taken two of three games from Euclid this season, all by close scores -- 7-6 in eight innings, 11-9 on Monday and 6-5. They are the only American Legion teams remaining in Prince William County.