Despite a 15-0, season-ending loss to the Fuquay-Varina Post 116 Nationals in the American Legion baseball Area I West Division championship series Thursday night, the players on the Wilson Post 13 baseball team walked off Sid Boyette Field at Hunt High with their heads held high.
They were disappointed to see their season end in such a fashion, but were proud of the way they battled with the defending state champions, including storming back from a five-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh in game 2.
“I didn’t think we had a chance against this team starting,” said Post 13 catcher Tyler Pegram. “Tuesday night, we beat them, we came back and scored six runs in that seventh inning. That kind of pumped me up. I know it pumped the rest of us up. We knew it was going to be a dog fight, we just didn’t come through the last two games.”
For head coach Matt Ballance, who completed his third season including the COVID year in 2020, that fight and resilience is what will define this group.
Post 13 finished 13-10 overall on the year, and won some key games down the stretch to get into the playoffs. Wilson saw its first-round series against Louisburg effectively wiped out by rain, resulting in an 11-day break, but was still ready to do battle with Fuquay-Varina.
“Hats off to our kids,” Ballance said. “They’ve battled, they’ve fought and they’ve done everything that we’ve asked them to. It’s seemed that way since the last two weeks of the regular season leading into now. We’ve just come into the game as bulldogs every single game, ready to fight and ready to do whatever we had to do to try and win baseball games. Did we win all of them? No. Did we fight our tails off? Every time. I couldn’t have picked a better group to go to war with. I can’t thank them enough for trusting me and Coach (Lloyd) Davis to out there and fight for us every single night as coaches and not only as coaches but fight for their teammates too.”
In Legion baseball, the focus is about so much more than wins and losses. It’s about high school-aged baseball players getting a chance to play with, get to know and learn from players they normally wouldn’t, and form bonds and friendships.
“It’s defined by the camaraderie of these guys,” Ballance said. “They’ve got to become a family quick. They’ve got to become teammates fast. They’ve got to learn to play and gel together as a team really quick. And that’s something that I thought our kids have done really well, even from day one. Even if it didn’t show up in wins and losses, you could tell within the first week or two that these kids were willing to play all in for each other. You’d be surprised at how quick these kids become friends and how long these friendships last beyond this. It’s not just about baseball. It’s about them developing friendships and camaraderie, and growing together not only as teammates but as a family as well.”
The players who have spent time in the Post 13 program know it’s made them better. Pegram, who is headed to North Carolina Wesleyan to play college baseball next year, feels it helped prepare him for his college career.
“It’s taught me a lot,” Pegram said. “It’s shown me to be a better man. Coach Matt and Coach Lloyd, I’ve had them for the last two years, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
For Landen Baker, who is heading into his senior season at Southern Nash with aspirations of playing in college after a stellar spring at both the plate and on the mound, his first year playing for Post 13 helped him get a jump on those preparations.
“I think it helped a lot seeing better arms than we do at Southern right now,” Baker said. “Getting at-bats, getting innings, it always helps.”
Legion is also about making memories. For Hunt High graduate Luke Dilda, Thursday night’s game wasn’t his last, as he’s headed to play baseball at Barton. He’ll be eligible to play for Post 13 next summer.
This season helped Dilda get ready for college baseball, but also allowed him to make some lasting memories, including getting to play with some of his Hunt teammates again. He and Baker combined to throw the first Post 13 no-hitter in over 69 years last month.
“That was great,” Dilda said. “We didn’t know it had been that long since the last one, and when we found out, it was a good feeling. Landen pitched a good game, I came in and the defense did the work. So that was awesome.”
If it was Dilda’s last game, he got to end it with another great memory. Pinch hitting in the bottom of the fifth, he roped a double into the outfield.
And it was fitting that what could have been his last hit for Post 13 came at Hunt, where he played his high school baseball career.
“I went up there and I was just like ‘It might be my last one,’” Dilda said. “It probably will be. I hit a double in front of my mom, and it’s just hard to think about. It’s probably my last time playing here and getting to see all my boys in the dugout when I turned around. It was a good feeling.”
Few know the benefits of Legion better than Ballance, who played for Post 13 in 2011 and 2012.
Now serving as Wilson’s bench boss, he’s glad to provide the same opportunity and environment he enjoyed as a player.
“When I played Legion baseball, it was probably some of the funnest baseball I’ve ever played in my life,” Ballance said. “I got an opportunity to play with guys that I probably never would have thought possible, or guys that I hadn’t played with in six years. It means a lot when you can come out here and the kids can experience it, and me as well when I get to experience it as a coach.
“It means a lot to me, and hats off to (Post 13 athletic officer Bob Walston). Bob gives me a lot of trust, and he believes in me as much as I believe in this program. It means a lot when you’ve got somebody that’s willing to back you up, believes in you, believes in what this program’s about and what we’re trying to do here.”