WILSON — The select group that is the Garner Post 232 American Legion Baseball team had one of the more interesting ends to a season a team has had in years.
Post 232 was eliminated twice in the N.C. State Tournament at Wilson – first on Monday via a temporary ruling by the national appeals board, then by Randolph County Post 45 on the diamond Tuesday with a 7-4 loss.
That loss came after the national appeal board accepted Garner’s appeal to stay in the tournament after it had been forced to forfeit the game against Randolph County.
American Legion national tournament rules state that “teams competing in ALB national tournaments must have 12 players available for participation. … Teams with less than 12 players will forfeit their right to participate and the National Appeals Board … shall determine a suitable replacement team.”
Post 232 had 11 players in attendance on Monday, one short of the 12-man roster it has played with for much of the last three weeks of the playoffs. After starting the summer with 18 players, Garner’s roster has shrunk with players leaving the team for various reasons.
But with a team stocked with versatile players, that hasn’t been a hindrance to winning for the Area I champions.
Garner Post 232 officials – manager Chris Cook and athletic officer Ross Whitfield – questioned whether the national rule was in effect for a state tournament since there is no specific designation of state tournaments as national tournaments.
The state’s area commissioners, led by state legion baseball chairman Roy Waters, asked for a ruling via phone from the national office. They were told that the state tournament falls under national rules, according to Area I commissioner Bob Figulski.
Cook said he informed legion commissioners and Waters on Saturday that if his team ended up in an afternoon game on Monday he would not have 12 players present since one of those players would be in summer school at college until 1:30 p.m. He did not get a complete answer to his question at that time, he said.
Tuesday morning, the national appeals board put Garner back in the tournament and apologized for its initial ruling.
In Tuesday’s game, which determined who would face Wilmington Post 10 in a one-game battle for the state title, Garner and Randolph County played four scoreless innings before Randolph County took advantage of two walks and two hit batsmen to put together a five-run fourth inning that included a two-run double off of the right field wall by Dylan Prevatte.
Garner’s deficit grew to 7-1 in the seventh but Post 232 got back within 7-4 on a RBI double by Tyler Marshburn, a RBI single from Carrington Austin and Lucas Scott’s sacrifice fly.
That was all Garner would get against Post 45 reliever Troy Burr.
Garner finished the season with a 24-7 mark and in the final four teams in the state.
“Rockingham County’s a great team and they won today no question, but this team has been on a roller coaster for the past 24 hours,” Cook said. “We can walk away holding our heads high. We leave here as one of the four best teams in the state.”
The run to the Area I championship and final-four finish was another step for a program in a transformation stage when Cook took over. Post 232 went 12-13 that season and has seen its record improve every season since.
“There’s a lot of teams who would have liked to be where we are,” Cook said. “There’s only one team that doesn’t lose its last game of the season.
“And I wouldn’t trade these guys for anything. Nobody gave us a chance in the playoffs with 12 players in the playoffs.”
Post 232 went 2-2 in the tournament, opening with a 4-1 win over Jacksonville powered by Tyler Marshburn’s three-run home run. It followed that with a 6-3 win over Shelby with five Garner players posting multiple-hit games.
Garner led defending state champion Wilmington Post 10 late before falling 6-5 in 10 innings, setting up the game against Randolph County.
The Post 232 roster featured players who were used to winning, with graduates from Garner, Fuquay-Varina and Middle Creek high schools.
Recent Garner grad Taylor Stephens, who will play at UNC Greensboro, was impressed with how well the team quickly bonded.
“It was just a great experience with a bunch of great guys,” Stephens said of the season. “Coming together from different schools who all had a lot of success and bonding like we did. It was a great summer.”
Correspondent Mike Potter contributed to this story.
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