Post 28 tournament hopes hanging in the balance

In the month of July, Post 28’s Sussex East Warriors have been the best Legion baseball team in the state of Delaware. They’ve won 12 games, including eight doubleheader victories, and lost only one, improving their regular-season record to 13-7 after a dismal 1-6 start.

Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT: Sean Lewis makes a difficult catch to make the tag during Post 28’s first game on Saturday, July 21.Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT
Sean Lewis makes a difficult catch to make the tag during Post 28’s first game on Saturday, July 21.

But as the regular season comes to a conclusion and teams make ready for the state tournament, Post 28 head coach Jody Sweetman announced late July 24 that his team may not qualify for post-season action, despite their hot play, because they reached the league maximum of four forfeits.

League Co-commissioner Bob Stevens mentioned that the forfeit rule would be enforced, but also that eight teams would make the state tournament and that Sussex East might even make the tournament if they have more points than the teams beneath them in the standings.

Post 28 was forced to forfeit doubleheaders to Del Vets and Stahl Post (teams the Warriors hold a 2-0 winning record against, with a 23-2 scoring ratio) because Post 28 was unable to reschedule the games.

The problem Post 28 ran into is that they had too few ballplayers available for weekend doubleheaders. A majority of Sweetman’s players are relied upon to work during the weekends and if they are able to get off, then it’s only for one of the two days (Saturday or Sunday) but not both.

And therein lies the problem, because it left Post 28 no maneuvering room to make up these two doubleheaders.

The league has a one-week grace period leading up to the state tournament to make up games, but it ends prior to the weekend, which is the only time Post 28 could feasibly make up either of these doubleheaders. And even if the grace period were extended through the weekend, Sweetman isn’t too sure that he could field teams anyway, which is the reason Post 28 is in the situation it is today.

“Down here [in Lower Sussex] we just don’t have the ballplayers,” Sweetman admitted. “I draw from only one school,” he said, referring to Indian River High School, which has a school population of about 800. “And, of those, 30 play on the (high school) baseball team. And, of those, 10 are interested in playing baseball in the summer. And, of those, five are able to get off work to play.”

Sweetman’s recruiting area extends up to Route 24 in Millsboro, so he was able to sign C.J. Bell, Brian Scott and Sean Lecates, but that still isn’t enough to field a team consistently – especially with the number of teams that currently exist in Sussex County.

There once were only two teams: Sussex West, which recruited from Delmar, Laurel, Seaford, Woodbridge and Greenwood, and Sussex East, which recruited from Indian River, Georgetown, Cape Henlopen and even Milford, before they started their own team.

But, three years ago, Georgetown started a team under Pete Townsend and that cut a leg out from under Post 28’s recruiting area. The effects weren’t felt immediately, though Post 8, Georgetown, won the championship that year, with Post 28 coming in second and Sussex West in third. But, now, teams are beginning to feel the pinch.

Sussex East on July 24 was supposed to play (5-19) Georgetown, who were a powerhouse in previous years, when Townsend coached, but the game was “postponed” because Georgetown couldn’t get nine players together.

“The numbers just don’t work,” former Post 28 head coach Mearl Layton said.

“When they split the territory, Post 28 took the biggest hit. Sussex West lost only about 5 miles west of Georgetown. But now it makes it hard to compete against the teams upstate, because they have a bigger draw,” he added.

Legion rules state that the ceiling on the pool of players is at 5,000 (school populations) and that the territories are spliced to accommodate the numbers. Sussex East and Georgetown don’t come close to approaching that total (each team recruits from about a fifth of the maximum total).

Coastal Point • JOHN DENNY
A Post 28 player slides into base in the second of two gamesa on Saturday, July 21.

And even if both teams combined and Sussex East drew from Cape Henlopen, Sussex Central and Indian River, they’d still be on the short end for recruiting, though it would make it more competitive because between the two teams there are at least nine that “are die-hard” baseball players according to Sweetman.

“To succeed in Legion, you need committed players,” said Layton, who managed Post 28 for six seasons. “And if you take those five kids [from Georgetown] and roll them into Sussex East, then you have a competitive team on the field night after night.”

According to Stevens, there is already to talk of combining both teams in order to field one competitive team, instead of two that are constantly fighting an uphill battle.

“There’s already been talk that Georgetown won’t be in the league next year,” Stevens said. “But a decision won’t be made until the new commissioner takes office after the playoffs this year.”

Georgetown head coach D.J. Hughes was unavailable for comment as of the Coastal Point’s deadline, but Sweetman, who has been in contact with Hughes, mentioned that the Georgetown skipper has said he “is mentally drained from this season and won’t be back to coach Legion next year.”

“We’re both suffering and we’ll continue to suffer if thing go on as they have,” Sweetman said. “What they should do is let us and Georgetown join back together, so we can get this back to the way Mearl [Layton] had it.”

And it appears that Post 28 may be eliminated from the state tournament unless, by some miracle, they are able to makeup at least one doubleheader and can play out their remaining schedule. All regular-season games must be played by Aug. 1 and, though Sweetman is discouraged about his team’s prospects about making the state tournament, he’s adamant that Post 28 will play the remainder of their games with pride, despite the circumstances.

“We’re not going to quit,” Sweetman asserted. “We’re going to finish and finish strong.”

Post 28 had a makeup game scheduled against Milford on July 26 and a single home game against Newark, tomorrow at noon.

Whether or not Post 28 slips into the state tournament because of they’ve accumulated more points than a team beneath them in the standings (Sussex West, Milford, Georgetown and Oak Grove), despite having four forfeits, no one can deny their talent or the chance they would’ve had to win the tournament.

Post 28 recently beat Stahl Post and Del Vets — two of the top three teams in the state — in two slaughter-rule victories, and has amassed a 9-5 record against the six teams above them in the league (Post 1, Del Vets, Stahl Post, Dover Post 2, RC DuPont and Newark).

“I really believe that, with the pitching we have and the way we’re hitting, we’d be one of the teams to beat,” Sweetman said.