Comebacks, stolen signs, missed bunts and squandered opportunities marked the first game of the Virginia American Legion Tournament at Courtland High in Spotsylvania yesterday as Winchester Post 21 used all of the above and a gritty performance from pitcher Jeff Hahn to defeat Springfield Post 176, 8-7.
Winchester (25-13) pushed a run across in the bottom of the eighth inning when Tavan Mair reached on one of Springfield's five errors, stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on an infield single by Tavis Laws.
Post 21 advanced to the second round of the double-elimination tournament. Winchester will face West End Post 361 of Richmond, a 17-3 winner over Churchland Post 310 of Chesapeake, today at 5 p.m.
Springfield (20-11), making its fifth consecutive state tournament appearance, dropped into the losers' bracket after one game for the first time since 1994, and will take on Churchland today at 10 a.m.
Springfield took an early 3-0 lead on the hard-throwing Hahn before a two-run second and three-run third inning gave Winchester a 5-3 lead.
"I kind of felt like it was my fault that we went down early so I took it upon myself to get some runs back," said Hahn, the senior ace on the 1999 Virginia AA champion Handley team, who gave up seven runs (four earned) and struck out eight in 6 2/3 innings. He also went 2 for 4 with a triple, three RBI and a run scored.
Springfield consistently was able to get runners on base against Hahn and reliever Rob Bursey, who earned the win after allowing Post 176 to tie the game at 7 with two runs in the eighth inning.
But Post 176 was unable to take full advantage of its 15 hits and 19 base runners as it stranded eight.
"We did get a lot of hits but certainly not in key situations," Springfield Coach Al Vaxmonsky said. "We are not a home run hitting team. We're a hit-and-run and bunt-and-run team and we just couldn't bunt today."
Contributing to Springfield's poor execution was the jump the Winchester fielders were getting on bunts.
"We stole their bunt sign pretty early on," Winchester Coach Scott Copenhaver said. "We have some smart kids that get a little bored on the bench and need something to do, so they figured it out."