From improvisational pitching rotation to jostled lineup card, Winchester Post 21 Manager Scott Copenhaver thought he had everything in order for the American Legion 16th District championship playback against Fredericksburg Post 55 yesterday.
Copenhaver's team took an early lead and hung on for an 8-7 win, but he did fail to take one aspect into account: cargo space. Long after the game ended, the manager and two helpers were in the Courtland High School parking area trying to rearrange trunk items to make room for the tall championship trophy that signified Post 21's first state tournament berth since the mid-1980s.
Yesterday's game carried somewhat deflated meaning because both teams already had qualified for the state tournament, which will open Wednesday at Courtland. As state host, Post 55 (25-3) was ensured a berth and will play District 10 champion Lynchburg on Wednesday at 8 p.m. By reaching the championship with Fredericksburg, Winchester (20-6) earned the right to advance. Winchester will play Springfield at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Post 21 scored all eight runs in the first four innings yesterday, with the key hits being a three-run, two-out double in the first by Chris Flynn and run-scoring singles by John Caton and Jeff Hahn in the third. Post 21 scored what turned out to be the decisive run in the fourth on two errors.
The early offense enabled Winchester to stick with struggling starting pitcher John Hawse, who gave up four runs but stranded eight Fredericksburg runners, thanks in great part to running catches by left fielder Jermane Walker to end the first inning and by right fielder Tavis Laws to end the second.
"Our outfield saved us," said Copenhaver, whose team mustered one hit the final five innings.
Tournament most valuable player Todd Lewis pitched three innings in relief of Hawse to pick up the win, and Hahn closed the game with two scoreless innings.
Fredericksburg had come-from-behind wins Saturday against Woodbridge and Winchester to force the playback. The Post 55 victory snapped an 11-game Winchester winning streak.
"Last night when [Fredericksburg] came back, we had a lot of guys down on themselves," Lewis said. "The team had a little talk and we said we wanted to do the job that we came down here to do. We were kind of embarrassed the way we got beat."