Back on July 24, Martinsville Post 42’s junior legion team had one of the worst starts imaginable to the district tournament. Taking on Roanoke Post 3, the team allowed five runs in the first inning, and three more in the second to fall into an early hole.
But something changed over the next five innings, and Martinsville turned it around. They scored three runs in the third, two more in the fifth, 11 in the sixth, and one more for good measure in the seventh. The 17-8 victory was the first of four straight in the District F tournament. Martinsville ended up finishing second in the district, and qualified for states, where again they’ve kept on winning.
After falling to Lakeside Post 125 in the first game of the American Legion Virginia state tournament, Post 42 responded with two straight victories, including a 3-1 win over Lynchburg Saturday to go into Sunday’s final day of the tournament guaranteed one of three teams remaining. They’re now two games away from a state championship.
“I told them this several times – ‘Guys, if you would have told me we’d be sitting 3-0 at the district tournament right now I would have told you you’re crazy,’” Martinsville Junior Legion Head Coach Sam Suite said by phone Saturday. “Just with the circumstances we had. Our first game we went down 8-0 and the kids, they were kind of hanging their heads and the coaching staff was like, ‘Guys, get your heads up. This is tournament ball, anything can happen.’ And sure enough they started chipping away in that game and we haven’t looked back since. They’ve been playing great baseball ever since.”
Saturday’s 3-1 win over Lynchburg was made even sweeter given how much the two teams have met up on the field over the last few weeks. The two teams played each other twice before the district tournament. Martinsville defeated Post 16 when both teams were 2-0 in districts, but Lynchburg got the better of Post 42 when it mattered, winning two one-run games for the district championship last Sunday.
Saturday in Fredericksburg, Martinsville and Lynchburg met up with both teams already sporting a loss in the double elimination state tourney. Martinsville scored all three of their runs in the top of the second. Yeison Sosa walked to score Michael Martin to start, and Conner Plaster came up with a two RBI single, scoring Elliott Underwood and Kyle Ramsey.
That was all the offense Martinsville would muster, but it was also all they would need. The defense went to work, and Colin Cunningham threw a complete game gem, allowing just one unearned run and six hits. Cunningham had six strikeouts and just one walk.
“There was no other game we wanted to win, besides tomorrow. But sending them home is always a great feeling… That kind of evened out the score,” Suite said. “I told them before the game, ‘Guys I don’t have to say a word. I don’t have to say anything to motivate y’all. You guys already know what we got. Put the pedal down. I don’t care if you’re down by 10 or you’re up by 10, we don’t stop going as hard as we can until the game is over.’”
Saturday’s win was proof that Martinsville has figured out how to win any kind of game. Their last two wins have been 3-1 and 4-1 scores, but before that they won on a walk-off by a score of 13-12. Suite said whenever they’ve needed the bats to step up, they do, and when they need a good defensive effort, that happens too.
“Really it varies from game to game,” he said. “Luckily for us what we need to be working is working for each of those games… Everyday what we’ve got to take care of the kids seem to do that.”
Martinsville went into the postseason with a 9-8-1 record, good for the No. 6 seed in the district tournament. Their early wins over the top three seeds were proof the players relish an underdog role. Suite has made sure that his players use the underdog status as a motivational tool, and it’s worked.
Another reason for feeling like underdogs is the fact that the team has played the entire postseason with a small roster. Martinsville had 18 players in the regular season, but are down to 12 now due to injuries and other factors. But the 12 who are able to still play have all stepped up, and Suite has seen that his players aren’t making any excuses.
“Really I’ve seen them step up in the big situations,” he said. “I told everybody we came up here short-handed, we were short-handed back at home in the district tournament and the kids didn’t care... It didn’t matter who we put out there, everybody stepped up and carried their weight just as much as the starters, just as much as any other reliever would have and that’s been the key, guys stepping up in those situations. Because they knew some of our guys who normally start weren’t coming, but they didn’t let that bother them. They just stepped up and filled right in and played baseball just as good if not better than the starters did.”
Martinsville will play the final day of the tournament on Sunday in Fredericksburg. They will take on Portsmouth Post 310 at 9 a.m., and if they win they’ll take on Winchester Post 21 at noon for the state championship.
Suite said he has full confidence his team will go out and compete just as hard as they’ve done the last 10 games, and leave it all on the line one more time.
“I keep telling the guys, if we win Game 1 we’re going to win Game 2,” he said. “The kids, they’re all super pumped. It’s not every day you get to compete against the best teams in the state. The keys for me is just keep playing ball, keep having fun. At the end of the day, it’s been my motto through the whole tournament… ‘Leave it out on the field. Don’t take a single pitch off.’
“A lot of the guys kind of have taken that to heart and talked to me about it, like, ‘Coach you’re right.’ We tell them you never know when the last pitch is going to be, you never know if you’re going to get hurt, you never know what’s going to happen. The last pitch, once it’s thrown you don’t go back. All you can do is wish, wish you could go play, wish you could you go play second base, wish you could go pitch, and the kids kind of take that to heart. I say, ‘Guys don’t take this game for granted’… And I tell them after every game, I’m extremely proud of these guys. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else. And I tell them, ‘You guys left it on the field and that’s what we’ve got to keep doing.’
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of the guys. Especially with being the underdogs... We’ve beat the odds so far and hopefully we can do it two more games.”
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.