With all the area high school baseball teams eliminated from the state playoffs, the attention for local ballplayers now turns to the many showcase events held across the state this summer, in addition to one of the oldest amateur baseball leagues played by teenage boys in all 50 states.
More than 5,000 teams participate each year in American Legion Baseball, which was established in 1925.
Across Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties, three local ballclubs will compete over the next few months as Wilmington Post 10 leads the way as one of the most notable ball clubs in North Carolina, with 10 state championships, along with national recognition as two-time participants in the American Legion World Series.
Post 10, Hampstead Post 167 and Brunswick Post 68 head into the season as members of Area II East, which also includes teams from Morehead City, Jacksonville, Duplin County and Wallace.
Once again, Wilmington has its eyes set on winning another state title with longtime Coach Scott Sandlin at the helm, assisted by Hoggard Coach Tommy Bowker.
New Hanover County’s best and brightest players are already off to a 3-0 start, with a healthy mix of experience and talent from the four Wilmington High Schools.
College-bound players Cory Everett (New Hanover), Ward Coleman (New Hanover), Max Johnson (New Hanover), Brandon Boone (Hoggard) and Jon Kuebler (Laney) top the list, while Tyree Johnson (New Hanover) returns to the hill as one of the top fire ballers in the area.
Rising senior Brad Pennington (Hoggard) will provide versatility in the infield and behind the plate, and the Post 10 pitching staff should provide plenty of depth for each of the nine-inning games as high school teams play only seven-inning contests during the season.
Brunswick Post 68
After a successful season in its first year of getting back to legion ball last summer, the Brunswick County team will be based out of West Brunswick High School and coached by Drew Dull, who serves as an assistant for the Trojans.
“This year’s team will have nine players from West Brunswick, four players from North Brunswick and seven players from South Brunswick,” said Dull. “We have three returning college players that I look to lead our guys in Kevon Perkins (Spartanburg-Methodist), Chandler Taylor (Pitt Community College), and Dustin Jones (Brunswick Community College).”
Dull is excited about the depth of this year’s squad, with around 20 players committed to the team as compared to the 10-12 players on the roster last summer.
“The main thing we have this summer is pitching depth, which is where we came up short last year,” said Dull. “The main goal this summer is to get our guys quality reps against quality opponents. We will have great team speed again and should be pretty good as long as we compete night in and night out.
“The kids will have to get rid of the rust quickly as we play three conference games on the road right out of the gate. Most of the players know each other and have played with each other so that should help them gel together as a team quickly. “
Hampstead Post 167
After coming up short in the 3A state playoffs this season, the Topsail baseball team will dominate most of the roster spots on this year’s team for Hampstead Post 167.
Joe Catenacci will return as manager after assisting the Brunswick County legion team last summer. He coached the Hampstead club in 2013.
The starting nine for Hampstead is loaded with college talent as seven potential starters on any given night have already committed to play at the next level and using the summer to hone in on their craft heading into their freshman year at various universities across the state.
Danny Wilson (UNC-Asheville), Jake Madole (UNC-Asheville), Trader Flora (Appalahcian State), Sam Luchansky (Belmont Abbey), Mason Berne (Spartanburg Methodist) and Colin Buete (Methodist) will serve as the core unit for Catenacci, while Topsail players Bryce Cota, Chase Riker and Josh Madole should provide stability on the mound and at first base.
Centerfielder Chase Thompson (Topsail) will return to the diamond for Hampstead, along with Austin Baird (Topsail), Austin Rodriguez (Topsail), Payton Rice (Topsail) and Cam Kimrey (Topsail). Jordan Flora also joins the team from Trask and William St. Ledger, Garrett Myrka and Tyler Ording will be duel rostered with the Hampstead junior leagion team.