Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Post 295 gets national exposure, experience

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To say that Gaithersburg Post 295 is hot is a bit of an understatement. With a .365 team batting average, a pitching staff that has an earned-run average of just 1.01, and a 27-3 overall record (21-1 in the Montgomery Division), it is safe to say that Post 295 is on fire.

‘‘You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that is not having a career year right now,” Post 295 manager Rick Price said. ‘‘Everyone is playing well.”

The strong play continued last weekend, as Post 295 took its annual trip to Utica, N.Y. for the Blue-Gold International Tournament. Playing against some of the strongest American Legion teams in the country, Gaithersburg opened the tournament against Brooklawn (N.J.) Post 72, a 23-time state champion, and a two-time national champion. Post 295 lost 1-0 after allowing an unearned run in the first inning, but among the highlights were a complete game five-hitter from Mike Ryan, who recorded seven strikeouts.

Post 295 got on the winning track in the second game of the tournament, shellacking Binghamton (N.Y.) Post 80, 17-0. Nick Loftus went 3 for 4 with four runs batted in, Jeff Flax went 3 for 4 with four runs scored and Kyle Ehret went 3 for 4 with three runs scored and an RBI. The most impressive performance however, belonged to pitcher Dominick Vattuone, who threw a complete game two-hitter with seven strikeouts. Vattuone’s performance raised his record to 5-0 on the season (with one save) and he’s posted a 0.42 ERA in 33 and 1⁄3 innings pitched. In his second year with the team, Vattuone has improved by making some simple changes.

‘‘He’s gotten better with his control,” Price said. ‘‘That allows him to throw fewer pitches in a game, which keeps his velocity up. He’s had a wonderful season.”

Gaithersburg then won its next three games, including a 6-1 over Hamilton (N.J.) Post 31, a five-time New Jersey state champion, and a 12-2 win over New Hartford (N.Y.) Post 1376, the 2006 New York state champions, in which pitcher Tyler Klitch threw a complete-game three-hitter. That win propelled Post 295 to the tournament semifinals, where it took on Guaynabo Post 134 from Puerto Rico. According to Price, that team had three players taken in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft last month, and though Post 295 took a 5-0 lead in the game, it eventually lost, 6-5. Guaynabo went on to defeat Brooklawn, 3-1 in the championship game.

‘‘They were in a totally different environment,” Price said of his team. ‘‘Yet, they were able to concentrate on the game against some very good teams. The way the tournament format worked is only going to help us.”

In fact, after dropping the opening game, Post 295 was still able to make it to the semifinals, and playing well with their backs to the wall is a skill that sometimes has to be utilized in the short span of a tournament. With the Montgomery County playoffs nearly upon them, Price and his team used the Blue-Gold tournament as a dress rehearsal.

‘‘We are going to have the same scenarios we faced there in the post season,” Price said. ‘‘We might find ourselves in elimination games, or we as coaches are going to have to keep track of how many innings our pitchers have thrown and manage them.”

With that experience in the bank, Gaithersburg Post 295 will look at the upcoming playoffs with optimism. Last year, Post 295 was eliminated by Damascus Post 171 during the county playoffs, to the disappointment of many of the same players on this year’s roster. With recent results as fuel, the bar is set higher this year. Not only are the players talking about a county title, but are looking at the state playoffs and beyond. Price, though, is keeping it low key.

‘‘They have been talking about it for a while,” he said. ‘‘They know what they want to do, but we keep telling them that they have to take it one game at a time. Last year, we had four games when we came back from New York, and we did not handle it all that well. I want them to refocus, but this group is a little bit different than last year’s. I think we’re going to be OK.”