JAMES CITY — The bucket of baseballs Williamsburg Post 39 manager Tom Richardson leaves in the dugout at the Warhill High baseball field is symbolic of the work ethic his team has exhibited this summer. It's a necessity, Richardson says, because the players show up two hours earlier than required before games just to take extra batting practice.
Post 39 will take that determination into the American Legion state tournament this week at the Warhill Sports Complex, not to mention a sterling record as a result of its hard work. The combination of mostly Warhill and New Kent players is 15-1 overall, having swept through the District 3 schedule unbeaten in 13 games with a 7-3 win on Friday over Denbigh Post 368 in the tournament championship game.
"This team is as motivated as any I've every coached," said Richardson, who has managed Post 39 for 13 years. "The majority of the players come in early for batting practice and the pitchers will stay after games and do bullpen work.
"This team has used winning the state tournament as motivation."
Much of that motivation stemmed from the disappointing endings Warhill and New Kent high schools had to terrific seasons this spring. They shared the Bay Rivers District title, followed by Warhill hosting its first Region I and state tournament games in school history, while New Kent reached the regional as a AA school for the first time.
But both saw their seasons ended by close losses, New Kent's in its regional opener. Warhill swept through its three regional games impressively, only to lose 2-1 in a 12-inning heartbreaker to Woodgrove in the AA state quarterfinals.
"Neither of us went as far as we wanted," said Post 39 catcher Blake Wills, an all-state first team selection at Warhill. "We definitely want to go farther than we did this spring.
"Winning the Legion state tournament would be right up there with winning it in high school. We knew from the first game we were talented, so to come together and go undefeated (in District 3) felt really good."
But Richardson admits he wasn't sure at first how the eight players with Warhill backgrounds would fit with the five from New Kent (Post 39 also includes three Jamestown players and one each from Lafayette and West Point). Their battles during the spring weren't nasty, but they were intense and included a little mouthing.
None of that turned out to be a problem during the summer.
"Sure, we had our days when we didn't like each other, but you're not supposed to like your rival," Wills said of the high school season. "But we respected them because we know how hard they worked and they know how hard we worked."
Michael Brumfield, a first-team all-state pitcher at Warhill, said, "We put that behind us and started hanging out together after games. We respected each other as baseball players."
Richardson added, "I think it's blossomed into some real friendships. They sit at the same tables together and goof off together."
Both schools have contributed significantly to Post 39's success. New Kent's Jake Countiss has been stellar at the plate, with a .404 batting average, 10 doubles and 19 RBI, while high school teammate Mason Downer is second for Post 39 with 16 RBI.
Warhill product Tyler Klinedinst is batting .400, with Brumfield and Thomas Richardson hitting .333 apiece. Warhill grad Teddy West is 4-0 on the mound with 41 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings, while former Warhill player Trevor Otey is 3-0 with 30 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings.
Jamestown grad Matt Smith has been torrid on the mound this summer, with a 3-0 record 34 strikeouts in 20 innings and a .141 batting average against. Mikey Anerton of West Point hit a homer in the district title game against Denbigh and is batting .395 with 10 RBI.
Depth on the mound, depth at the plate and solid fielding (a .951 percentage with just 22 errors in 16 games) has Post 39 players thinking state title. It's been a motivator for their hard work all summer.
"Winning it would mean something special to all of us after not getting to the state semifinals this spring," Brumfield said. "We take a lot of pride in hosting the state tournament and that would make it more awesome to win it."
American Legion state tournament
WHAT: State tournament for eight district representatives of American Legion Baseball Senior (ages 19-under).
WHERE: Warhill Sports Complex in James City County.
WHEN: Tuesday-Friday (or Saturday if a winner-take-all championship game is needed) beginning at 10 a.m.
NOTEWORTHY: Four games will be played daily Tuesday-Thursday in two sessions, the first beginning at 10 a.m and the second at 5 p.m. Denbigh Post 368 plays its first game on Tuesday at 5 p.m., with Williamsburg Post 39 playing its first game on Tuesday at approximately 8 p.m. A first championship game in the double-elimination tournament will be played Friday, with a second, if needed, at 10 a.m. Saturday.