American Legion Baseball has returned to Covington’s Post No. 32, and they returned in a big way this week capturing the championship title at the 18th Annual POW-MIA Invitational in Douglasville.
Covington’s Post No. 32 had not fielded a team in five-plus years, but this year Legion Baseball Chairman Bob Kitchens collaborated with Coach Bill Dallas and Assistant Coach Eddie Bagwell to field a team.
“Our goal in starting this team was to give our local baseball talent a place to improve their skills against good competition and give them the tools they need to play at the collegiate level,” Dallas said.
The POW-MIA Tournament matched up six American Legion Teams from the metro-Atlanta area including Rockdale Post No. 77, Douglasville Post No. 145, Alpharetta Post No. 201, Peachtree City Post No. 50 and Loganville Post No. 233. Covington Post No. 32 collected four wins and only one loss for the tournament.
The roster for Post No. 32 is comprised of 17 players from six different schools around the area. Gray Ritchey, Hunter Ballard, Peyton Pallay, Austin Holloway, Nick Womack, Drew Buckhault and Hank Steele represent the players hailing from Eastside. Alcovy provided Blake Shope, Nanpon Ross and Dalton Reagin. Zach Beggs is the lone player from Piedmont. Cale Brown attends George Walton Academy, and Walnut Grove sent Davis Wheeler. Rounding out the roster are Heritage players Ryan Sutton, George Moll, Tyler Holcombe and Domenic Bazzani.
Covington Post No. 32 opened the tournament with a 2-0 pool play victory over the host team, Douglasville Post No. 145. Richey, Buckhault and Shope combined on the mound for the shutout while the offense was provided from the bats of Ballard, Bazzani, Buckhault, Reagin and Shope.
Next up for Post No. 32 was Alpharetta Post No. 201. Post No. 32 jumped out to an early lead and never looked back on its way to a 12-0 run-rule win. Reagin was assigned the starting pitching duties for the game and looked strong in his three innings of work. Run support came courtesy of a three-run homer by Beggs that plated Reagin and Ballard. Also garnering hits for Post No. 32 were Bazzani, Shope, Brown and Steele.
Covington then faced its biggest challenge of the tournament against Rockdale Post No. 77. The two teams are natural rivals as many of the players know each other and many played for Post No. 77 a year ago.
The game was tight and remained scoreless through the middle of the third inning with Drew Buckhault on the mound pitching shutout baseball for Post No. 32. Covington broke through to take the lead with a single from Steele and Ross reaching on an error. Both men were driven in by a single off the bat of Brown.
Post No. 32 built a 5-1 lead through five innings, but let Rockdale back in the game in the sixth and seventh innings to tie the game at five runs apiece.
The game went into extra innings with the International Tie-Breaker rules being applied. Rockdale capitalized with a pair of runs in their half of the inning and Covington was unable to answer back as they were handed their only loss of the weekend by a score of 7-5. Brown and Steele had two hits each while Beggs, Bazzani, Buckhault and Sutton each had base hits to contribute.
Elimination bracket play on Sunday had Covington slated for a rematch against Douglasville. Covington Post No. 32 put six runs on the board in the first inning and continued to increase their lead each inning on their way to a 19-7 win. Covington logged 15 hits during the game highlighted by triples from Brown and Beggs.
The championship game pitted Covington against Rockdale for the title. Gray Richey took the mound for Post No. 32 and was effective throughout the game, facing the minimum in five of the seven innings that he pitched.
While Ritchey kept the Post No. 77 hitters guessing, the Covington batters gave him a two-run lead in the third inning with a leadoff double from Shope followed by a single from Moll. Both men were driven in with a strong triple off the bat of Brown. A homerun from Bazzani added some insurance in the fourth inning to give Post No. 32 a 3-0 lead.
Rockdale managed to avoid the shutout in the fourth with M.J. Boykin getting aboard with a leadoff single that eventually scored. Ritchey continued to have a great outing allowing only two more hits throughout the rest of his complete game effort. Ritchey also had four strikeouts on the day and was backed up by a pair of double plays from his defense.
Covington pretty much sealed the game in the seventh inning with another Shope double followed by a single from Moll, a triple from Reagin and a base hit from Buckhault to push another trio of runs across to give Covington a 6-1 lead that held up for the win and the tournament championship.
When asked about the early success of his team, Coach Bill Dallas said, “We expect a lot from this group of players and we are confident that this is just the beginning of our success.”
Post No. 32 will be back in action at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday at home against Douglasville Post No. 145.