BEVERLY - Beverly/Lowell Post 389/750 has a tradition of opening every season against Pickerington Post 283 on Memorial Day.
This year was no different. Unfortunately for B/L, Pickerington came out on top by sweeping a doubleheader by scores of 6-2 and 9-4.
That was back in May, though. Fast-forward to late-July and both clubs are on their way to the state tournament after breezing through their respective district tournaments. Just as they opened the regular season, the two teams will begin state play against each other. They will square off at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Al Beavers Field in Lancaster.
MIKE MORRISON The Marietta Times
Beverly/Lowell’s Gunnar Smith takes a swing during an American Legion baseball game earlier this season at Fort Frye Field. Smith will start at catcher for Beverly/Lowell, which opens state tournament action Wednesday against Pickerington.
"I look for a low-scoring, tight game," said Post 389/750 skipper Todd Engle. "I think that both teams are very similar. (Pickerington coach Chris Weber) does the little things. He likes to squeeze, he likes to do those kinds of things. I look for it to be a really close, low-scoring baseball game."
Both teams will be familiar with their surroundings. Pickerington played its district tournament at Beavers Field, outscoring opponents 43-3 in three games. Beverly/Lowell competed in a Fourth of July tournament at the same venue and won four out of five games, including a 9-1 win over fellow state qualifier Prospect Post 368.
"We're expecting to go over and play well," Engle said. "We kind of got the monkey off our back this year at the Fourth of July tournament. We've not played well at Lancaster ever since they moved the state tournament to Lancaster, but we did have a nice Fourth of July run over there (this year). There's nothing to be intimidated by now. We pretty much know who our opponents are going to be and the quality and level that we're gonna have to play and we're not intimidated by that, so that's a good thing."
Overall, Beverly/Lowell went 1-3 against state-qualifying teams, including a win over Prospect, two losses to Pickerington and a loss to Troy Post 43. B/L would play either Prospect or Troy in its second tournament game on Thursday.
Beverly/Lowell and Pickerington have become regulars at the state tournament in recent years. Both were in it two years ago, Pickerington the eventual champion. Engle's club won it in 2006 and has qualified in several different years since then.
"We would like to think now that our name is kind of thrown in the hat when people are talking about early favorites every year or who's gonna contend (at state)," Engle said.
Beverly/Lowell goes into state having won 18 of its last 20 games and currently owns a 26-13 record. Its strength has been pitching and defense, allowing four runs and committing one error in three district tournament games. The lineup hasn't been too shabby, either. The top half of the order, consisting of Jake Ullman (SS), Ethan Estes (3B), Lance Schafer (CF), Derek Layton (1B) and Gunnar Smith (C) has been clicking lately and helped the team average 8.3 runs per game at district.
With usual No. 6 hitter and left fielder Blake Kidder expected to be on vacation next week, Engle will have to shake up the bottom half of the order. Trent Bradford, Isaac Huffman, Devin Leister and Phillip Hoffman are all options in left. Joel Estes or Kyler Dennis will likely play second and Bryce Gandee will be in right field. Should Engle elect to use Layton as a designated hitter, Austin Hefter and Justin Hill can both play first base. Hill could also see time on the mound.
Engle said he will likely go with right-hander Ben Barnas on the bump against Pickerington. Barnas' most recent outing was a winning effort against St. Clairsville in the district opener. He allowed two runs in 7.2 innings. Barnas also pitched at Beavers Field this season. He was on the mound when B/L defeated Prospect 9-1. He allowed one run in six innings.
"Ben loves to pitch on that mound over there," Engle said. "I'm sure (Pickerington) will throw their No. 1 at us, too, because you've got to win game one. So you're gonna see two quality arms on the field."
The key for Beverly/Lowell will be to continue executing the fundamentals.
"We're young, so we have to do the little stuff," Engle said. "We have to play small ball, we have to take an extra base, we have to hit behind runners. They will show in their play if they're willing to take that extra base or if we're gonna be content with getting a base hit instead of getting a base hit and busting it out of the box and looking to take an extra base. That's how this team has been successful, by doing stuff like that. It's nothing that I do anymore. It's on these guys now.
"We are the home team (Wednesday against Pickerington) which is an advantage. We're gonna get the last swing at it, so we think everything is kind of breaking our way. We're a confident bunch right now."