ALBION — We know that Wilcox Post #476 can hit the deep ball. We know it can steal bases and pitch with the area’s best.
But, ahead of the District 8 Regional Legion baseball tournament, Wilcox knew that playing “small ball” could go a long way in the team’s bid to advance to the state playoffs.
Using a mix of each, Wilcox compiled a perfect 3-0 record in ‘Pool A,’ emerging as the pool’s top seed in a four-team, single-elimination crossover bracket that will determine Region 8’s champion.
Wilcox scored double-digit runs in each victory, as a 12-5 win over Meadville Post #17137 and 12-3 triumph over Elk County Legion Baseball League rival Smethport Post #976 preceded a mercy rule victory on Monday.
Wilcox and Wesleyville Post #571 each went 2-0 in a rain-soaked weekend that pushed pool play, which was supposed to end Sunday, into Monday. While each side had clinched its spot in the tournament playoff bracket, a Monday matchup determined which would take on the champion of ‘Pool B’ and which would play the pool’s runner-up.
Wilcox starting pitcher Aiden Zimmerman and Wesleyville starter Cam Williamson traded zeroes over two and a half innings before Wilcox put “small ball” to work in the bottom of the third.
Jefferson Freeburg and Dalton Smiley each singled to set up a Gabe Watts bunt attempt. Watts got the bunt down, and Wesleyville’s attempt to throw out the lead runner at third was late and wide of the bag, loading the bases for Wilcox.
Zimmerman was then hit by a pitch, bringing in the game’s first run. However, Wilcox wasn’t done capitalizing on small ball just yet.
Dom Allegretto laid down a suicide squeeze bunt as Smiley dashed home, scoring Wilcox’s second run.
“We’ve been practicing a lot on playing small ball,” Wilcox coach Scott Zimmerman said. “In these big games against good teams, we just need to execute a couple well-placed bunts.”
Luke Zimmerman followed with a fly ball to right field that was caught on the warning track, preventing further damage in the third.
Wilcox added another two runs in the fifth, started by a Luke Zimmerman single and steal of second. Dalton Stahli drove him home on an opposite-field single before Carson Whiteman reached on an error, moving Stahli to third.
“We just kept chipping at them,” Scott Zimmerman said. “They’re a really good, fundamentally sound team.”
An errant pickoff attempt to first by Wesleyville brought Stahli home while the ball raced into right field, putting Wilcox ahead, 4-0, in a game that felt perhaps further out of reach than the scoreboard indicated.
The reason for that? Aiden Zimmerman.
The right-hander was excellent over six innings, striking out four while allowing four hits and a walk in a shutout effort.
“He kept that team off-guard the whole time,” Scott Zimmerman said. “He had excellent control of his curveball and kept (Wesleyville) off-balance the entire game. He pitched a gem of a game.”
Defense, as is the norm for Wilcox, helped keep runners off the basepaths for Aiden Zimmerman.
“We had some really sound plays early,” Scott Zimmerman said. “Freeburg fielded a ball deep in the hole and made a really good throw to get a guy early in the game, and we made a couple really nice defensive plays that kept us in the game.”
Wilcox tacked on six runs in the sixth innings, as an RBI single by Watts scored the team’s 10th run and ended the game, 10-0, in favor of Post #467.
As Pool A champions, Wilcox will play West Erie County in Tuesday’s semifinals, the runner-up from Group B.
Wilcox entered the tournament with high hopes, aiming for an appearance in the state tournament (which is only earned by winning the regional competition). Now, the team will need to determine how it wants to manage its pitching staff.
“The first game, we’re gonna see how it goes,” Scott Zimmerman said. “We’ll either throw (Whiteman) or (Watts) in the first game. We might pitch them longer, or we might pull them early to keep both available for the next game.”
Aside from Aiden Zimmerman, Wilcox will have its entire staff available for Tuesday’s decisive games. That includes an arsenal of arms that, beyond soon-to-be college pitchers Whiteman and Watts, features Luke Zimmerman, Colin Porter, Jefferson Freeburg and more.
Wilcox and West Erie County will play at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, with the winner advancing to the 4 p.m. Region 8 championship game. Wesleyville will play Pool B champion French Creek Valley Post #205 at 10 a.m. on the opposite side of the bracket.
“I’ve got great coaches helping me,” Scott Zimmerman said. “That’s the reason we’re where we’re at.”
Smethport and Bradford Post #107, each of which also represented the Elk County Legion league at the tournament, failed to advance beyond pool play.