Legion ball in full swing

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Big Island off to big start

By Mike Forster

  It is axiomatic in baseball that deep pitching is needed for deep playoff runs.

In the case of the Big Island American Legion Post 217 baseball team, things therefore bode well.

The Islanders have opened Legion play this season in fine fashion, posting an initial record of 2-1.

The team features many players who have honed their crafts on the fields of Jefferson Forest and Liberty High Schools.  The squad also features a couple of fresh faces.

Big Island’s latest win was 4-2 over Danville Post 325.  In that one, Jefferson Forest ace Kyle Goddard threw six excellent innings, departing the game with the teams tied at two-apiece.

Liberty’s Jordan Eubank threw three innings of relief, picking up the win, while shutting down the Dandies.

Eubank got some offensive relief from first baseman Houston Hensley, who drove home the go ahead run, and Brian Miller, who sent home the insurance policy run.  Hensley, by the way, went three-for-four for the second consecutive game.

Eubank finished his stint, yielding but one hit and a lone base on balls in improving his record to 1-1.

Big Island’s other win came against New River.

If the Danville game was a pitchers’ duel, the game against the Newbies was a hitters’ paradise.  The Islanders pounded out a total of 16 hits.

Leading the parade was the aforementioned Hensley.  The longish Liberty grad also picked up the win from the mound, going four and a third innings and giving up but a single earned run.  He also struck out four while yielding three hits.

Brian Sanderson, who made a big impact at Bridgewater in his freshman campaign, belted out a pair of hits against New River.

Jake Tanner, the Liberty grad who now plies his trade for Lynchburg College, drove in a pair of runs.  Eubank and Cody Arthur chipped in with a pair of hits each.

Big Island’s only loss so far this season came at the hands of a strong Roanoke team.  The Islanders were not helped out by the fact that many of their players were out on Beach Week.  Head Coach Kelley Russell only brought an even dozen players to that game, then watched that group fall to Roanoke, 6-3.

When the team is fully assembled, it will be tough to beat.  For starters, the middle infield of second baseman Sanderson and shortstop Tanner has to be one of the elites in the district.  Just try and find a better one-two punch than you get from Sanderson and Tanner.

That duo backs a pitching rotation that is first-rate.

“I think we’ve got more pitching than we’ve had in previous years,” noted Russell.

That statement says a lot, as Big Island has been blessed with some tremendous staffs over the years.

This season, look for at least nine different Islanders to take to the mound for the team.  Each is a threat to do damage.

Trevor Johnston may be the marquee hurler.  The Lynchburg College lefty can always be counted upon to bring plenty o’ heat.

Matt Williams, an LCA guy, brings plenty, as does recent Jefferson Forest grad Benton Flynt.

Goddard and Hensley are proven on the mound.

Additional mound duty will be served by Tanner and Eubank.

Cousins Bryan and Christian Sanderson also provide solid options.

The Islanders look to be a team that relies on its pitching and its small ball.  Bryan Sanderson can provide some power but, for the most part, the team is built on singles and speed.  Some players that personify that model are outfielders Mikey Wallman and Brett Dietrich, as well as third baseman Trevor Cheek.

“We’ll try to score any way we can,” noted Russell of his offensive strategy.  “Mostly we just put the ball in play.  We do what we need to do when we need to do it.”