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Legion squads eye state playoff berth
BY STEVE FRANZELLO
One of the benefits of hosting the American Legion state baseball tournament is that your team automatically qualifies for one of the eight berths.
But for Stafford Post 290, which will do the honors at the American Legion Sports Complex on July 31 through Aug. 4, it’s not that easy.
Post 290 has two senior teams, the Americans and the Nationals, each of which has been to the big event during the past 10 years. Only one gets the automatic bid as the host team from Stafford.
The last time Post 290 hosted the tournament five years ago, the Americans earned the berth after defeating the Nationals in five of six meetings, including a one-game playoff at the end of the regular season.
This year, the issue was settled early.
In District 16, teams meet just twice during the regular season. Managers Jim Keller of the Nationals and John Somerville of the Americans agreed to let the outcome of those two games determine the host team.
Last Wednesday, the Americans locked up the berth with a 12–5 victory to complete a two-game sweep. In their first meeting earlier this month, the Americans posted a rain-shortened 8–4 win.
Recent North Stafford graduate Geoff Cieslewitz played a key role in both victories, going the distance on the mound in the first game and collecting two hits in Wednesday’s win.
“That’s the way [the state representative] should be determined—on the field,” said Dave Stein, the District 16 Commissioner. “Post 290 always has competitive teams that seem to advance, and this year they’ve got two good ones again.”
The Americans are 6–2 after edging Front Royal Post 53 9–8 Sunday, while the Nationals were 5–2 entering the weekend. The two teams could meet again at the end of July, when the district holds its tournament at Leesburg Post 34.
“We’ve got a really good mix of players,” Somerville said. “Some of them, like Mikey Bruno and J.J. McDaniel, have college experience.”
Keller also likes the makeup of his veteran squad. The Nationals are led by several recent high school standouts, including pitchers Chase Boster of Colonial Forge and Ryan Leake of Stafford.
“Playing American Legion baseball is a great way for these guys to spend the summer,” said Keller, a former legion player himself.
Besides the Nationals, four other area teams will be trying to win their respective district tournaments and join the Americans in the state playoffs next month.
Culpeper Post 330, another District 16 team, is reloading under second-year manager Wes Wimmer after an 0–2 start, including an 11–2 loss to the Nationals.
In District 13, Spotsylvania Post 320 looks competitive again after advancing to the district final last year. Newcomers Josh Ewing, Jacob King and Nate Traugh figure to add punch to manager Steve Russnak’s lineup.
King George Post 89 evened its record last week with a pair of wins after dropping its first two games. Manager Al Landino has several members of King George High School’s state playoff team on his roster.
Former Free Lance-Star All-Area Player of the Year Jonathan Haught has helped the Fredericksburg Post 55 Eagles bounce back from three early losses to District 13 pacesetter Fluvanna. The former Courtland catcher already has smacked three home runs.
“It’s early and it’s still a wide-open race,” Post 55 manager Craig Pennington said. “There’s still a lot of baseball left to be played in a short period of time.”
Steve Franzello: 540/374-5440