Though Tommy Whittaker’s days as a high school athlete have long passed, there is something about Sumter’s Riley Park that leaves him awestruck.
“I’ve always loved playing there, better yet just being there,” he said. “I’ve always found myself in awe of that place. The fans, the atmosphere, everything is first class … they really know how to put on a show.”
Beginning this Saturday, Whittaker and his Horry Post 111 baseball team will have another chance to soak it all in.
By virtue of its 6-5 win in 10 innings over Bluffton this past Saturday, Post 111 qualified for its first trip to the state American Legion Baseball tournament since 2009.
With the bases loaded in the 10th, Caleb Lindaberry was hit by a pitch, allowing the local squad to leave with a 6-5 victory — as well as take its Lower State second-round series in four games.
“This has been our goal,” Whittaker said. “The boys really turned it on when we needed it. There were some games late where we need wins against Murrells Inlet and Georgetown to even qualify. But I am mighty proud of how this team responded.”
Needing a late surge to qualify as League II’s No. 2 seed, Post 111 has continued its torrid play in the postseason. A winner in six of its past seven games, the club has worn out opposing pitchers of late, scoring 78 runs in that time.
“I’ve never been a part of a stretch like this,” the Post 111 manager said. “Even after the first half of the season, where things were not going our way, I figured we could hit. Slowly but surely, the boys had a better approach at the plate, had better at-bats and then things began to come around.”
Collectively, the team did not perform well at the plate in its second-round series, batting a mere .228. However, several of its contributors from Aynor carried it through.
Against Bluffton, brothers Caleb and Holden Nobles, as well as Ethan Prosser and Seth Ward combined to hit .367 in the four-game set.
Caleb Nobles was particularly effective, going 6-for-16 at the dish with a pair of grand slams and 13 RBIs. According to Whittaker, a year of college ball has done wonders for the Aynor product’s game.
“He’s always been a great hitter,” he said. “We saw the potential he had, but it seems after a year (at Florence-Darlington Tech) he’s really come around — and it showed for us in that series against Bluffton.”
Though the past two rounds proved little deterrent to Post 111, the club is sure to receive much stiffer competition in Sumter.
In addition to Horry, defending state champion Florence, host Sumter and Chapin-Newberry will vie for top billing in the Lower State.
“We’ve played Florence four times, so we know the caliber of competition we are up against,” Whittaker said. “But I also told the boys all that we’ve done of late. If we continue to play like we have, I’ll put us against anyone.”
Qualifying from leagues in the Upper State include Gaffney, Inman and Rock Hill.
A play-in game between Fort Mill and Greenville will decide the last of eight spots in the tournament.
The S.C. American Legion Baseball tournament will take place July 22-26 at Riley Park in Sumter.