When slugger Zach Terrell decided to devote his time to football and first baseman Sam Fullerton broke his hand in the season opener, the summer did not look particularly promising for the Euclid Diamond Dawgs, an Osbourn Park-based American Legion baseball team.
"After we lost them, we thought our season was over, basically," Euclid catcher Adam Kearney said.
Instead, it's still going. The Diamond Dawgs won the District 16 tournament title last weekend, beating Dumfries Post 28 to advance to the American Legion state tournament, which opened Tuesday at Dan Daniel Memorial Park in Danville.
The winner of the eight-team double-elimination state event will qualify for the Mid-Atlantic region tournament in Brooklawn, N.J., one of eight regionals across the country. The ultimate prize is a trip to Rapid City, S.D., for the American Legion World Series.
The district title marked the first for Euclid (23-10 headed into states) in its seven years of existence, and the Dawgs did not have an easy time. "When we looked at the bracket, it was like, 'Holy mackerel! They stacked it against us,' " Euclid Coach Dickie Dombrowsky said.
In the first game, the Dawgs knocked off defending state champ Winchester Post 21, a team that beat them earlier in the week in a regular season game. Then they beat the Stafford Post 290 Nationals, an opponent they had gone 0-4 against during the summer. Bobby Collier picked up the win.
"That 290 game was definitely a big morale booster," pitcher-outfielder David Frelin said. "Everybody started to think we could really do this."
A victory over Warrenton Post 72 followed. Then came two games against Dumfries. Euclid and Dumfries are the only two remaining Legion teams in the Prince William area. The Dawgs lost to Post 28 in the bottom of the ninth on Saturday, forcing a Sunday rematch. In the playback, Frelin went 62/3 innings to pick up the win, and John Sipe had three hits and drove in three runs to key a 7-4 victory. Kearney hit a two-run homer.
Reliever Andrew Rust picked up two wins and a save in the tournament. Kearney batted .460 with three doubles, two homers and 10 RBI in being named the tournament's most valuable player. Bill Thompson hit .429 in the five games.
There was little time to celebrate the championship win. The Dawgs had to be in Danville by 12:30 p.m. Monday to register and attend the pre-tournament banquet. The first state game was scheduled for Tuesday against Lynchburg Post 16 North. The state championship is tomorrow, with a re-match Saturday, if necessary.
The earlier the better Saturday as far as Dombrowsky is concerned -- son Richard, a baseball assistant at Piedmont (Ga.) College, is getting married that evening in Greensboro, N.C.
"I think we want this more than anybody else could ever want it, really," said Kearney, who played at Liberty University last spring but will play at Baltimore City Community College next season. "We just have some committed kids on this team that want it so bad. Our coaches and families have done so much for us and we just want to do it for them."
To say this has been the highlight of Sipe's youth baseball career would be an understatement. The oldest Euclid team member never played a spring of high school ball. He said he didn't try out in his freshman year at Osbourn Park; in his sophomore year he didn't have the grades; in his junior year he was cut, and in his senior year he earned his GED and left school early.
"You appreciate the game a whole lot more if you don't get to play all through high school," said Sipe, who was also cut from the Legion team last year but was a valuable replacement for Fullerton this summer. "You miss it, and when you do get to play, you appreciate it.
"I've been playing ball since I was able to walk. I know I have plenty of talent to play with any of these guys. There was no doubt in my mind."
Bobby Anthony, Collier, Frelin and Fullerton all play at Shenandoah University, where Rust also will play. That college presence has lifted the Dawgs at times.
"It's mainly just the leadership that we have," Kearney said. "We have a lot of college-experienced kids. Kids who will listen to their teammates that they respect a lot. They'll listen a lot closer. They learn a lot of things. Some things that could make a big difference in a game."