By Maurice Patton
Scott Beasley considers his team “battle-tested”, but the troops are a bit thin as the Post 19 Seniors head into the American Legion Southeast Regional Tournament that starts Wednesday at Bobby Hayes Stadium in Pelham, Ala.
When the Columbia squad takes the field for the 10 a.m. opener – “Somehow we’ve had the opener the last four years; but it’s a blind draw, supposedly,” Beasley observed – of the eight-team double-elimination tourney against Tallahassee (Fla.) Post 13, they’ll be short three players that were in uniform for the three-game sweep of Pulaski Post 60 in last month’s best-of-5 state tournament series.
Spring Hill graduates Dawson Hargrove and Brandon O’Brien, incoming freshmen at Southwest Tennessee Community College and UT-Southern, respectively, opted out of the trip along with late roster addition Jacob Culberson.
“Obviously the first name hurts a little,” Beasley said regarding Hargrove, a two-way player who emerged as the leading hitter for Post 19 (.403) and tied for the team lead with four home runs while going 3-1 with a 3.36 earned run average this summer. “But at this point, it is what it is. We’ve got 13 that really want to be there.
“At the end of the day, you want guys that want to be there and you go from there.”
The Columbians head into regional tourney play with an 18-7 record, riding a six-game winning streak and having won eight of their last nine contests – a performance that encourages Beasley as the team heads south.
“From what I can find, (Tallahassee) is a team similar to ours,” he said. “From what I can tell, it looks like they’ve got a couple of college arms, ‘gonna-be’ college arms, and a pretty solid lineup.
“Obviously Tupelo (Miss., Post 49) has had a great year. They’re sitting on two losses and we beat them twice. We’re the only team that’s beaten them all season. Florence (S.C., Post 1) I believe is 31-3. Retif Oil (Post 285) out of New Orleans is a really solid program; they’ve already got two or three big-time Division I commits. They’re going to be a tough out as well.”
Rounding out the eight-team field – which includes seven state champions — is Troy (Ala.) Post 70, Covington (Ga.) Post 32 and the host Shelby County Post 555.
“That’s why we travel where we do throughout the summer: You’ve seen some of these teams,” Beasley said. “When you see them in the regional, you’re not scared by them. You’ve seen them before, you kinda know what to expect.
“I guess you could say we’re battle-tested. Does that translate into wins at the end of the season? We’ll see.”
After previously playing in the Mid-South Regional, this is Post 19’s second appearance at the Southeast Regional since returning to that region in 2019; last year’s tournament was not played as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We kinda get put wherever they throw us,” Beasley said. “Right now, our regional, the way it’s currently set up is brutal. You’ve probably got six of the top 10 states as far as teams coming out (to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C.). I’m not saying there’s not some good teams in other places, but the fourth- or fifth-place team in our regional honestly could go win some other regionals.
“At the same time, it’s where you are, so you’ve got to go out and win it.”
Hickman County graduate and Freed-Hardeman left-hander Shelton Blackwell, who led Post 19 in wins (four), innings pitched (31.1) and ERA (2.23) will get the ball in Wednesday’s opener. He’ll be followed Thursday by Summertown grad Cory Francis, with Columbia Central rising senior Hudson Adams slated to start Friday.
“That’s the plan – but you get into tournament play and who knows who you’ve got to use in relief,” Beasley said.
Grant Burleson, the 2021 Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association’s selection as Class A Mr. Baseball out of Summertown, has not thrown since July 3 because of concerns over some arm soreness. Beasley anticipates the Columbia State signee being available out of the bullpen this week.
“He’s fine. For now, he’s fine,” the coach said. “He was about to come in at the end of the second game at the state tournament. We think he’s healthy to where we could use him as a closer. You’re not going to get ‘starter’ innings out of him, but if it’s one, maybe two innings, you’ve got him in your back pocket to try to close a game.”
Offensively – where Hargrove’s absence may show up more – state tourney most valuable player Brantly Whitwell (.352, 10 extra-base hits, 32 runs) and Brett Bell (.369, 25 runs, eight steals), both Spring Hill products, will look to solidify the batting order along with Burleson (.344, four homers, 26 RBI).
“I do think hitting depth has been our strength all year,” Beasley said, as the starting lineup stands to have five .300 hitters.
Post 19 will match up Thursday against either Retif Oil or Troy Post 70 – either in a winners bracket contest at 4 p.m. or in an elimination game at 10 a.m. Double-elimination play continues Friday and Saturday, with the tournament championship game set for 2 p.m. Sunday.
Games will be available via webstreaming.
“Small but mighty” may turn out to be the team’s battle cry for the week.
“When you’re taking 13 with three ‘POs’ (pitchers-only), it makes making the lineup really easy,” Beasley said. “But, get an injury and you’re up against the wall.
“Sometimes, everybody getting to play their part kinda energizes the team.”
10 a.m. – Tallahassee (Fla.) Post 13 vs. Columbia Post 19
1 p.m. – Florence (S.C.) Post 1 vs. Tupelo (Miss.) Post 49
4 p.m. – Retif Oil (New Orleans Post 285) vs. Troy (Ala.) Post 70
7:30 p.m. – Covington (Ga.) Post 32 vs. Shelby Co. (Ala.) Post 555
10 a.m. – Game 1 loser vs. Game 3 loser, elimination game
1 p.m. – Game 2 loser vs. Game 4 loser, elimination game
4 p.m. – Game 1 winner vs. Game 3 winner
7 p.m. – Game 2 winner vs. Game 4 winner