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Post 8 has look of a title contender

South Boston American Legion Post 8 Head Coach Jody Nelson is a man that likes to get down to the bottom line. 

So, when asked how he feels the 2013 edition of the Post 8 Junior Legion baseball team will fare, he replied “this will be our best chance to win the district in the last three years.”

With eight players returning from last year’s team that finished with a 14-5 overall record and saw its season end with a one-run loss to Big Island Post 217 in the district championship game, Nelson has plenty to feel good about as Post 8 opens District 9 play Monday night at 7 p.m. against Lynchburg Post 16 Red at Halifax County High School.

One aspect of that feeling is the Post 8 players feel they have a point to prove this season. Post 8’s loss in last year’s district championship game resulted from an error that allowed the game-winning run to score.

“Last year hurt,” Nelson pointed out.

“Last year left a sour taste in a lot of guys’ mouths. The game was tied in the seventh inning, and we lose on an error. They feel they have something to prove. If I’m the other teams in the district, maybe I’m on the lookout (for Post 8).”

Nelson said there are many positives to this year’s team. One of those is the fact that Nelson has a good mix of players that have been in the program for two or three seasons and new young players that want to be in the mix.

“We’re older and more mature than we have been in the three years I’ve coached the team,” Nelson said.

“We have players this year that have been with this program for two or three years now. They understand the level of the competition, the teams and players that are strong and those who are maybe not so strong. They have an approach we didn’t have two years ago, and I think that will be beneficial to us.”

The returning players include Tristan Howerton, Will Harris, Ryan Powell and Colby Grissom, all of whom played for the Halifax County High School varsity baseball team this spring.

Tripp Bennett and Kelonte Gutrich, who played for the Halifax County High School junior varsity team, are also returning. In addition, Javon Smith from Bluestone High School, Tre’ Watson and Michael Watts are back in the Post 8 fold.

“I’d say this team is as good, if not better, than last year’s team,” Nelson pointed out.

“We’re deeper on the mound. We lost some key guys from our (pitching) rotation, but I think we’ll be solid. Defensively, I think we will play well. I feel we will be good offensively.”

Nelson’s primary area of concern is the team’s pitching. 

Powell returns to the mound, as does Grissom, who was injured last year. Hilliard, from Bluestone High School, is pegged as a potential starter as is newcomer Andrew Abbott, who started Wednesday’s game against the Tri-Cities Rivercats from Eden. N.C.

Tripp Bennett, Tanner Bennett, Jake Hughes and Smith are being eyed as relief pitchers.

“If we pitch like we’re capable of doing and don’t give up big innings, I don’t see why we shouldn’t win the title,” Nelson remarked.

“If we pitch well, I think we’ll be in real good shape.”

Nelson says the team’s defense is solid. Offensively, he says the Post 8 club has the potential to be better than last season.

“Last year we hit the ball well,” Nelson pointed out, “but this year we have added power. Last year we didn’t have a lot of power. That showed with the fact we didn’t have any home runs. This year, I think we have some guys that are capable of hitting two or three during the season. The power, to me, is the strongest point.”

As the official start to the Post 8 team’s season looms ahead on Monday, Nelson feels good about his team.

“We know there is going to be some tough competition,” Nelson said.

“I like this group. I’m pleased with the returning players, the guys that have come over from Bluestone High School to join us and the young guys that have come out this year. I think we will be right where we want to be.”