ST. MARYS - The goal of any organization -whether it's a business or a sports franchise -is to constantly improve its position.
Since it was formed in 2010, the St. Marys Post 79 American Legion baseball team has done just that.
The team was the brainchild of Steve Tice, whose son Aaron Tice was a high school freshman at the time. He mentioned his idea to veteran St. Marys High School baseball coach Ed Wilson, and Wilson said he had just the man who could organize and coach the team.
Members of the St. Marys Post 79 American Legion baseball team that finished as the runner-up at the Cambridge Fourth of July Tournament, are, front row, from left, Andy Newhart, Dylan Frye, Mitch Davis, Aaron Tice, Garrett Furr, Johnny Riggs, Tony Brunicardi and Robbie Harper. Back row, manager Steve Tice, Jarrod Lough, Ryder Bolin, Austin Luther, Matthew Houser, Zack Romine, Tyler Davis, DJ Burgess, and head coach Wirt Cook
That man was Wirt Cook, a 2004 Parkersburg High School graduate and a standout player for both the Big Reds and Parkersburg Post 15's American Legion team. With Tice running the business end of the team and Cook doing the on-field coaching, St. Marys Post 79 has become a fixture in state American Legion circles.
Naturally, its success didn't come quickly or easily.
It went 6-25 in its initial season. But it has gotten better each year, coming just shy of a 20-win campaign a year ago.
This year, St. Marys is off to a 17-15 start, including reaching the championship game on Sunday in the prestigious Fourth of July Tournament at Cambridge, Ohio, which attracts teams from throughout the Buckeye and Mountain States.
The difference between this year and past seasons, says Cook, is that this team finds a way to win the close games as evidenced by 10 of its 17 wins being of the come-from-behind variety.
"It's been a work in progress,'' said Cook. "It has been a lot of fun.''
It's also been a lot of hard, time-consuming work, especially this year as Cook is flying solo. He has no assistant coaches, meaning it's all on him. But with so many veteran players on the roster who know the routine, Cook says it hasn't been all that stressful.
Post 79's assigned territory are players from Pleasants, Tyler and Ritchie counties. It also can pick up other players who have been granted releases from their home legion teams. This year's squad includes players from the following high schools: St. Marys, Ritchie County, Parkersburg Catholic, Parkersburg High and Wood County Christian.
Post 79 employs a six-man pitching rotation. A great deal of its success this year has been that the starters have gone at least five innings more often than not. Tyler Davis, for example, has five complete games in six starts, including a seven-inning game where he threw just 62 pitches and an eight-inning contest at Beverly where he needed just 81 tosses. He's also hit a pair of home runs and has 15 RBIs in limited at-bats. He's joined in the rotation by Mitch Davis, D.J. Burgess, Jarrod Lough, Robbie Harper and Andy Newhart. They have a combined ERA of 3.98 with opponents hitting just .279.
Plus, these players are multi-talented. When they aren't pitching, they are contributing elsewhere.
Mitch Davis, for example, plays a mean center field, can fill in virtually anywhere, and is the team's leadoff hitter.
Then there's Burgess, who pitched St. Marys to a win over Parkersburg Post 15 on Saturday in the Cambridge event. He allowed four runs the first two innings, then just one the rest of the way. In addition to pitching, Burgess also is one of three solid catchers on the roster, along with Zack Romine and Johnny Riggs.
Jarrod Lough is the team's top hitter, carrying a .419 average with 21 RBIs. He can pitch, DH or play the outfield. First basemen are Matt Houser, a standout defender, and Ryder Bolin, who is batting over .400 with 3 HRs. Aaron Tice and Robbie Harper both play second base, with Tice sometimes moving to third and Harper taking his turn on the mound. Tony Brunicardi has been the team's shortstop the past three years. A PHS grad who attends WVU, he is hitting .379.
Dylan Frye plays center fielder when Mitch Davis pitches, and either right of left field the rest of the time. Newhart, who graduated from Wood County Christian at age 17 and will start medical school in the fall, also is a left fielder who has an on-base percentage of nearly .500.
Austin Luther has made an impression his first year on the team, playing errorless ball at second base and third base.
Garrett Furr has become a reliable reliever as evidenced by a recent doubleheader at Clarksburg where he garnered the save in the opener and the win in the nightcap.
Post 79 proved over the weekend its ready to contend for titles. It's only a matter a time before it wins one.