YORK — The York Junior American Legion baseball team has raised more than a few eyebrows with its winning formula in postseason play.
Monday was no exception, as Post 66 shut out Gaffney 4-0 in the first game of a best-of-three second-round playoff series, with the winner to advance to Saturday’s state championship playoffs in Florence.
The Post 66 team rode the arm of right-handed pitcher Ryan Gilbert, who went the distance, and shortstop John Moorefield, whose sixth-inning two-run homer sealed the win.
“Ryan pitched a great game,” said York head coach Chris Stephenson. “He made the necessary adjustments in the early innings once he saw what the umpire’s strike zone was all about.”
“Ryan has multiple pitches he can rely on, from his fastball to the off-speed breaking pitch he throws,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson has issued praise to the Post 66 pitching staff all season. “We have another pitcher who can throw multiple pitches for strikes,” he said.
Stephenson said Moorefield’s long home run was even more impressive considering the bats used today produce less power than those used in previous years.
“It’s almost like a wooden bat,” he said. “John really got into it when he hit the home run.”
“We got a break in the fourth inning when their second-baseman dropped the ball with the bases loaded, allowing two runs to score,” said Stephenson. “The game was scoreless until that point.”
Visiting Gaffney threatened to break into the scoring column in the first inning, with the bases loaded and two outs; but Gilbert struck out a Gaffney batter to end the inning.
After Post 66 stranded runners at first and third in the bottom of the first, Gaffney loaded the bases again in the top of the second with two outs.
Gilbert retired a Gaffney batter with a tantalizing breaking pitch for a called strike three.
Gaffney had runners at second and third in the top of the fourth, but Gilbert shut down the scoring threat.
Post 66 plated two runs in the bottom of the fourth for its first lead of the game.
Joe Gill started the inning with a solid single. Shandon Cobb drew a walk. Later, with one out, Will McSwain drew a walk to load the bases.
Moorefield hit a bouncing ball to the left of the second-base bag, where the shortstop’s toss to the second-baseman was mishandled, sending two Post 66 runners across the plate.
Gilbert retired the side in order in the top of the fifth, again using his breaking pitch for a strikeout to end the inning.
After the York Junior Legion team stranded runners at second and third in the bottom of the fifth, Gaffney threatened in the top of the sixth until Gilbert fielded a hit to the mound for a double play to end the inning.
After McSwain drew a walk in the bottom of the sixth, Moorefield drove the ball over the left-field fence, staking the home team to a 4-0 lead.
“The pitcher fell behind 3-1 on the count,” said Moorefield. “I knew he wanted to throw a strike and was waiting on the pitch.”
Moorefield, a consistent hitter for Post 66 and the YCHS Cougars varsity baseball team, said the two-run homer was special.
“I knew I made solid contact,” he said. “It was a great feeling when the ball cleared the fence.”
Gilbert retired the side in the top of the seventh, striking out the final batter with a breaking pitch.
“I felt good on the mound,” said Gilbert. “I made the necessary adjustments after allowing a good many base runners in the early innings.”
Gilbert said he goes with a slow breaking pitch in key situations. “It’s a pitch I like to throw,” he said. “I work on it a lot at practice.”
The right-hander said he didn’t tire during the seven-inning stint. “I’ve pitched seven innings in school ball,” he said.
Post 66 traveled to Gaffney on Tuesday for the second game of the best-of-three series, needing a win to qualify for the state competition in Florence. A Tuesday loss would send the teams back to York on Wednesday for the deciding game.
The Enquirer-Herald’s weekly press deadline was met before Tuesday’s game. A follow-up story will appear in next week’s paper.
Stephenson said the battle for state honors in Florence will involve eight teams in a double-elimination format. He said the team’s goal is to advance to the Florence championship playoffs.
Victory against Spartanburg
Last week, after defeating the Spartanburg Junior Legion team in the first game of a best-of-three playoff series, the York Post 66 Junior players had their backs against the wall in the second game, at Spartanburg.
Visiting York trailed 9-3 in the top of the seventh inning, but the Post 66 team rallied in dramatic fashion, sending 12 runs across the plate to defeat Spartanburg 15-9.
Post 66 had key hits in the seventh-inning rally, with Moorefield and Childers delivering. Caleb Clayton had two hits in four at-bats for the winning York team.
Stephenson said Post 66 struggled against Spartanburg for much of the game. “The umpires had a tight strike zone, and our pitchers had to adjust,” he said.
He said Spartanburg built a commanding lead with six runs in the fifth inning.
“We made three errors and gave up three or four walks in the inning,” he said. “We felt we might be headed back to York for a third game to decide the series, but our kids rallied from behind.”
Stephenson said there is a pattern to Post 66’s success.
“When we get good pitching and eliminate errors, our kids win games,” he said.