Union County Post 535 off to late, hot start

It was a banner season for Union County high school baseball. Three teams – Weddington, Marvin Ridge and Piedmont – all advanced to at least the fourth round of their respective state playoffs and two clubs, Weddington and Piedmont, collected state titles.

But if there was any downside to the widespread success, it was felt by Union County Post 535 American Legion baseball team.

Post 535 began its season on June 8 with an extra-inning, 12-10 win over the Mint Hill Senior Army. It was the first time since the team’s tryouts that the players had taken the field together, and coach Alan Mitchell, who also is an assistant coach for Piedmont, was pleased with his club’s effort.

“The boys played well,” said Mitchell. “We hit the ball well. We were smart on the base paths and we had good pitching.”

Typically, said Mitchell, his American Legion teams have “three or four” practices before the season begins, but this year had to forgo any rehearsals with so many players venturing deep into their high school postseasons. The team also was forced to reschedule four of its games to later in the season. That left him guessing about his team’s prospects entering the season-opening game.

After the win, however, Mitchell was pleased with what he saw from his players.

“We’re going to be pretty athletic, and I think we’re going to have really, really good defense,” said Mitchell. “We have quite a few arms we can use, but I truly believe our calling card will probably be defense.”

Defensively, infielders such as John Elwood (Piedmont), Austin Pierce (Cuthbertson), Joe Tietjen (Marvin Ridge), Austin Harding (Piedmont) and Ben Peterson (Marvin Ridge) offer Mitchell a versatile nucleus to work with.

Mitchell also said he was pleased with his team’s offense. He said that although it may lack a surplus of power, “We’re going to have guys who can hit for average.”

The team’s late start will probably be felt most by its pitching staff. Post 535 should have a surplus of local talent on the mound with Nick Contafio (Cuthbertson), Cameron Price (Piedmont), Jonathan Caldwell (Piedmont), Kyle Pittman (Forest Hills), Nick Norton (Sun Valley) and Jake Sagmoe (Marvin Ridge), among others.

But with several games rescheduled for later in the season, Post 535’s slate will feature several three-game weeks, which will put an emphasis on using his staff wisely, said Mitchell.

“We’re going to be doing a lot of rotation,” Mitchell said. “Basically, the arms that I have, all those guys are high school starters, but we may get in a situation where somebody comes in and throws 30-35 pitches on a Tuesday in the middle innings and I’ll try to bring them back Thursday or Friday to throw another 35-40 pitches. That’s my biggest fear: I don’t want to overuse anybody and I don’t want to get anybody hurt or injured.”

All of that is tough to get a read on after just one game, said Mitchell. That said, the coach has already seen some positive signs.

“They started to come together a little bit,” said Mitchell. “That’s the biggest thing with any baseball team: chemistry. Just figuring out where everybody needs to be and when they need to be in and when they don’t need to be in. that’s gong to take me a couple of games to get figured out.”

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