Post 23's American Legion baseball team finished last season 41-17 after a run in the state tournament. This year's incarnation marks the fourth year for the team since it was restarted and expectations have been high once again.
The team is a veritable all-star team of local talent but then so are it's opponents. This year Post 23 is 21-16-1 with just two weeks remaining before the District 7 tournament.
"We really haven't been playing as well as I thought we would," Post 23 coach Jack Branon said. "We've had a lot of kids who have been gone for various reasons, some of which were sports related and some had family vacations, and really we're starting to get our players back and define roles a little bit."
Despite the recent rough stretch, Post 23 picked up two wins Friday in the Southwest Ohio Wood Bat Tournament in Ross County.
The first win was a forfeit over the Waverly Post which didn't have enough players and in the second contest Post 23 defeated Chillicothe Post 62 11-1 on the strength of solid pitching by Anthony Knittel.
Branon said Knittel has surpassed expectations this year, winning several big games on the mound. Branon added that Knittel, who was 2-for-4 with two RBIs Friday, also leads the team in batting average.
Nick Kemper also had a solid game Friday, hitting 3-for-4 with an RBI and Aaron Oesch was 1-for-3 with a double.
Branon mentioned Kemper, Oesch and Zach Bukiewicz as key players in the program that have been with the team from the beginning.
"Those guys have just really helped carry our program for the last four years, not carried it by themselves, but they've been an integral part of our program...," Branon said. "We look to them for a lot of our leadership."
David Shultz, who is among the team leaders in on-base percentage, solid fielding first baseman Bryce Hall, pitcher and infielder Josh Myers and center fielder Wes Loop are some among many of the names that have contributed for Post 23 this season.
The team won 13 of 15 games following its participation in the Gene Bennett Classic but has been in a bit of a slump since.
"We win a few and lose a few," Branon said. "We won a double header at Circleville on Monday and then lost a doubleheader with Ashland. Then we started the tournament we're in and lost our first game. I don't feel like we're playing up to our capabilities although we did play well (Friday).
On Thursday Post 23 dropped a contest to Hillsboro Post 129 7-6 in eight innings. The second inning was a rough one for Post 23 as three errors led to six Post 129 runs. Oesch, Knittel and Loop each had two hits in the loss to Post 129.
"We just need to get everything together one time," Branon said. "It seems one or two guys will have a bad game and do something in a crucial spot that hurts us and the next time they'll be the guys that succeed and somebody else makes a mistake. We just need to get everyone on the same page at the same time."
Even with the ups and downs this season, Branon said Post 23's recent play is encouraging and hoped that it would get the team on a roll heading into the final weeks. Post 23 is 5-2 in the South Central Ohio League and has a chance to win the league with five games remaining.
"We've got some good players but as much as anything else this year we haven't had our team together long enough as a group to establish roles and establish positions," Branon added. "As we go through the next week... I think we can get that set going into tournament play."
Post 23 continues play in the Southwest Ohio Wood Bat Tournament today against FIndlay Post 3 at 3 p.m. in Ross County.
JOHN STEGEMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org