Before the American Legion baseball season even started, coach Bill Dallas had stated that one of his goals for the Covington Post No. 32 A’s was to win the Georgia State Championship. Dallas and his team did just that over the weekend by defeating Albany Post No. 30 by a score of 8-3 in the championship game that was contested on Monday morning.
Coach Dallas and Assistant Coach Eddie Bagwell prepared the Post No. 32 A’s for the state tournament throughout the regular season by stressing the importance of doing well in their North Georgia Area Games. By doing so, the Covington team entered the state tournament as the No. 1 seed and was the beneficiary of a first round bye. In round two they were pitted against Albany Post No. 30, who had played well against the A’s in a tournament earlier in the year.
Covington sent southpaw Dalton Reagin to the mound for the round two matchup against Albany and he was very effective and efficient right from the start, as he and his defense kept Post No. 30 off the board through the first three innings with a mix of ground outs, pop-ups and strike outs. Meanwhile, Tyler Johnson pitching for Albany was doing the same for his team until Covington broke through to take a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning. Ryan Sutton got things started with a leadoff double, followed by Reagin helping his own cause with an RBI single. Reagin then went on to score when Hunter Ballard doubled down the left field line.
Albany answered back in the top of the fourth with a pair of runs to tie the score at two with a base hit that was followed by a botched fielder’s choice and another miscue that allowed one run and put the other in scoring position. The score remained tied at two until the bottom of the seventh inning with Drew Buckhault reaching on error followed by a base knock from the bat of Hank Steele and then a walk to Sutton to load the bases. That set the table for Cale Brown’s RBI single to give the A’s a 3-2 lead.
Reagin gave way to Blake Shope on the mound in the eighth inning. In his seven innings of work, Reagin only allowed four hits while striking out five and he did not walk a single batter. Shope closed the game by cruising through the eighth with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout. With two outs in the ninth, there was a little excitement as Covington allowed a batter to reach first base on a mishandled ball. That was followed by a double down the right field line that gave Albany hope as they tried to score the lead runner, but he was cut down at the plate by a laser-like throw from right-fielder Drew Buckhault to the catcher Ballard. That secured the 3-2 win for Covington to allow them to advance in the winner’s bracket to the next round.
Round three found the Post No. 32 A’s facing Loganville Post No. 233. The top of the A’s order went three-up-three-down to start the game, but they bounced back to put up four runs in the second courtesy of base hits from Domenic Bazzani, Zach Beggs, Nick Womack and Brown. Gray Ritchey was assigned the pitching duties for Covington and he was solid from the start with a 1-2-3 inning of his own. Ritchey did give up a couple of hits in the second inning, but also had a trio of strikeouts to end any threat.
The bats for the A’s were quiet through the third and fourth innings with only a Sutton single entered into the book. But the Covington offense roared back in the fifth with a single from Ballard sandwiched between doubles from Reagin and Bazzani to make the score 6-0. The Post No. 32 A’s broke the game wide open with an eight-run sixth inning on the strength of doubles from Beggs and Buckhault combined with singles from Steele, Reagin and Bazzani.
With a 14-0 lead, Ritchey continued to pitch the bottom of the sixth where Loganville managed to avoid a shutout by getting a man into scoring position and plating a run. But the damage was done and Ritchey pitched a complete game (seven inning run rule), racking up nine strikeouts, giving up six scattered hits and not walking any batters. The 14-1 win advanced the Covington team into the championship game where they would await the winner of the loser’s bracket which had yet to play out.
By remaining in the winner’s bracket, the Post No. 32 A’s were rewarded with a day of rest, which helped to preserve their pitching staff and kept all of the players out of the 97-degree heat. Meanwhile, in the loser’s bracket, Alpharetta Post No. 201 put Leesburg Post No. 182 out. Albany then dispatched Alpharetta to remain alive and Douglasville Post No. 145 advanced after Rockdale Post No. 77 was disqualified from the tournament and was forced to forfeit. Albany won their matchups with both Douglasville and Loganville to work their way back to the championship game against Covington.
The Monday morning championship game had a first pitch time of 10 a.m. and Covington Post No. 32 was the visiting team after a flip of a coin. Reagin and Beggs generated some offense with a pair of singles, but were left stranded as the A’s half of the first inning came to a close. Bazzani was on the hill for Covington and he was impressive as he faced the minimum through four innings racking up a half-dozen strikeouts and letting his defense take care of the rest.
The Post No. 32 team drew first blood in the second inning with a walk to Ballard that scored as a result of a double off the wall belted by Buckhault. The A’s then filled the bases when Albany was unsuccessful in getting the out at third in a sac-bunt/fielder’s choice situation, and then hit the next batter. One run scored on a passed ball and another run scored on a Beggs sac-fly to give Covington a 3-0 lead. The A’s doubled their lead in the fourth inning with a trio of singles from Steele, Sutton and Brown. All three would cross the plate thanks to a sac-fly from Reagin and a double from Beggs. Ballard singled in the fifth and Brown doubled in the sixth, but both would be left stranded as the teams switched sides.
Albany began to work their way back by scoring a leadoff single in the fifth inning. The top of their lineup strung together three singles, scoring another pair of runs to cut the Covington lead in half making it 6-3. Dallas decided to make a pitching change and Bazzani exited after logging nine strikeouts, allowing five hits and walking three batters. Shope came on in relief inducing a fly out and a field’s choice out before the third out of the inning was made by Buckhault again gunning a runner out at the plate by throwing a seed from deep right field to catcher Ballard.
Covington continued to plug away in the sixth with a Buckhault double and a single from Steele to add an insurance run. With a 7-3 lead in the top of the ninth inning, the A’s offense continued to impress with a Bazzani double followed by a single from Shope. Steele garnered his third hit of the game with an RBI single plating Bazzani to make it 8-3. With Albany down to its last three outs in the bottom of the ninth, Shope closed out the game and the Covington Post No. 32 A’s were the Georgia State Champions.
Dallas commented, “The entire team played well this tournament and I am proud of the way we pitched and executed plays in the field.” He continued, “We accomplished a goal that we set for our team, but we still have work to do at Regionals.” At the conclusion of the tournament, Shope was awarded the Tournament MVP award and Dallas was awarded the Coach of the Year honors for the State of Georgia.
By winning the State tournament, the Post No. 32 A’s are now qualified to play in the American Legion Southeast Regionals to be contested in Asheboro, North Carolina from August 6 - 11.