KERNERSVILLE — The Cary Colts were formed six years ago with the idea that a second American Junior Legion baseball team in Post 67 would increase player development.
As a result, younger players got a chance to play and learn instead of being turned away because they weren’t old enough for Senior Legion or skilled enough to play for the longtime Junior Legion state power Cary Bulls.
But this year’s Colts forged a new path. While it included some of the basic elements of why the Colts were created – young players, development, a learning curve – it also included a new concept: winning.
Sunday night, in the N.C. Junior Legion state tournament hosted by East Forsyth High School, the Colts ended their most successful year to date. They finished tied for fifth in the state tournament in their first-ever appearance, bowing out in an elimination-game loss to Mint Hill Post 4059 (11-0 in five innings).
“The kids developed through the year, but they started to believe in themselves, and I’m proud as heck of them,” said first-year head coach Scott Pose. “They’re all gamers, they all play hard and they learned a lot about themselves. They see that they can play with anyone in the state and that can only help them as they go on. And I was privileged to be a part of it.”
The Colts finished the year 14-13 overall and won five of their last seven after being knocked to the loser’s bracket after their first game in the Eastern Qualifier.
“We focus on development early, but then we start to play to win at the end and in the tournament because we want to put our best foot forward,” Pose said. “And these kids can compete. They can play with anybody.”
In the tournament opener Friday, Cary lost 5-0 to Caldwell County Post 29, putting them in the first elimination game Saturday morning, against Swansboro Post 78.
Cary pounded out four first-inning hits to take a 3-0 lead. With two runs in the third and one more in the fourth, Swansboro tied the game.
One inning later, the Colts were in trouble.
Swansboro had the bases loaded with no outs, but a solid Cary defense kept anyone from scoring. The two teams went into extra innings after being tied at 3 after seven.
Cary pitchers Louis Card and Daniel Haberern were holding their own. “It’s part of the maturity process. Many of the kids, this is the first time on a bigger stage,” Pose said.
In the top of the ninth, Cary loaded the bases with no outs. But Swansboro responded by getting a force-out at home, a strikeout and a pop fly.
Cary scored two in the top of the 10th, on an RBI single by James Russo and an RBI walk drawn by Sean McQuillan to win 5-3.
“It was a great ball game,” Pose said. “These kids got a lot of character and they came back and played their hearts out.”
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps