CHARLESTON — Have we been here before? Yes.
For the third straight year, the Danville Post 210 Speakers find themselves on the doorstep of advancing to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C.
And just like their two previous attempts, Danville has reached this final day of the Great Lakes Regional the hard way.
After a hard-fought 16-15 loss to Beverly-Lowell, the Ohio state champions, on Friday, Danville rallied back with a 7-5 triumph over Gladwin County, the Michigan state champions, in an elimination game on Saturday at Coaches Stadium in Charleston.
“This was a big game,’’ Danville third baseman Logan Spicer said. “We had to get that win.’’
Saturday’s victory actually continues a remarkable tradition with Post 210 baseball.
In the past three seasons, Danville teams are 12-2 in do-or-die postseason games. The only team to beat Post 210 is Midland (Mich.) Berryhill, who won the last two Great Lakes Regional Championships.
“I’ve said it all year long, these guys don’t quit,’’ Danville manager Allan Shepherd said. “During this game, I looked up into the crowd and I saw a lot of younger players in our program. If they wanted to see how you are supposed to play at this level and how you compete — they just needed to look at those guys on the corners.’’
Spicer, who plays third base, and first baseman Chase Vinson made a number of great defensive plays, helping the Speakers maintain an early 1-run lead.
In the second inning, Spicer knocked down a line drive, 1-hopper with his bare head and then made an accurate throw to get Gladwin’s Carson Longstretch.
One inning later, Gladwin had the tying run on third base with one out, but Vinson made a diving catch on a soft line drive by Dane Smitz and he was able to double off Trent Reed from third base to end the inning.
It was more of the same in the fourth inning. Vinson had a diving stop on a grounder by Reed Raymond and his toss to pitcher Mason Ecker was in time for the out.
“Our pitchers threw more strikes and we executed on defense,’’ said Spicer.
The biggest factor was probably the fact that Ecker, who walked five and hit one batter in the first inning, only gave up one free base (a hit-by-pitch) in his next five innings.
“After the first inning, I was a little worried,’’ said Ecker, who gave up four runs to Gladwin without giving up a single hit. “I just kept throwing the ball up. I couldn’t get my release point down. I had to change something.’’
So Ecker went back in time and reverted to his old pitching style.
“I kind of switched to the other side of the mound and dropped down a little bit,’’ he said. “It can be tougher to hit sidearm pitchers and I felt that gave me my best shot.’’
Shepherd acknowledged that after the first inning, he was just hoping that Ecker could make it to the fourth.
“I started to see him settle into the game in that second inning,’’ Shepherd said. “We needed some quick innings, if he was going to go deep.
“Ecker was just gritty on the mound.’’
And when he was done on the mound, he went out to center field and just missed making the best catch in the tournament.
Longstretch crushed a ball to the left-center gap off Danville reliever Dalton Dalbey. Ecker laid out with full extension and had the ball in his glove.
“It came out when I hit the ground,’’ Ecker said.
“That’s the Mason Ecker that we love,’’ Shepherd said.
The four-run first inning for Gladwin County could have been a back breaker for Danville, but the Speakers put up five runs in the top of the first.
Spicer and Gage Romack each contributed two-run doubles in the frame, but just like Friday, things quickly turned in the bottom half of the inning.
“(Friday) we scored a lot of runs, but we couldn’t hold onto the lead,’’ Spicer said. “We didn’t give up the lead this time and our pitchers did a better job of throwing strikes.’’
The Speakers added a pair of very important insurance runs in the sixth inning.
Vinson and Lucas Hofer combined on two-out double steal with Vinson just barely getting in under the tag of Smitz at home. Jake Stipp followed with single to right that scored Hofer just ahead of the throw from Gladwin’s Raymond.
With the win on Saturday, Danville must beat Beverly-Lowell, a 9-8 winner of Swoyersville (Pa.) in extra innings, twice on Sunday to win the Great Lakes Regional.
Just a few weeks ago, Post 210 was in the same position in the Fourth Division Tournament and the Speakers claimed their fourth straight division title.
“This is exactly the same, except I pitched a little better in the game that got us to the final day,’’ said Ecker. “This win should boost our confidence and we will be ready to go.’’
Today’s action begins at 11:30 a.m. with the if necessary game to follow the first.
Shepherd said that he was going with “Johnny Allstaff” on the mound, referring to the fact that Post 210 will pitch anyone that is eligible to pitch on Sunday.