Post 79 intent on raising the bar this season

ST. MARYS – Following Wirt Cook’s inaugural season as head coach of American Legion Post 79, there was nowhere to go but up.

Since winning six games that year, the St. Marys-based outfit has continued to follow that slogan and increased its number of victories each season.

Last year, Post 79 struggled from the outset before catching fire down the stretch. By winning 13 of its final 23 games, the ballclub finished 15-29.

“We were catching our stride toward the end of the year and winning a lot of close games,” said Cook, who returns for his fourth season. “Early in the year, we lost games every single possible way.

“We’ve gotten better, but we’re not as good as we want to get.”

Experienced would be one way to describe Post 79’s roster. Of the 15 members listed, eight are in their final year of eligibility.

“We have a bunch of kids who have been there before,” Cook said.

Players who attended college this past academic year include Ryder Bolin (West Virginia Wesleyan), Tony Brunicardi (West Virginia University), Andy Newhart (Youngstown State) and Zack Romine (Fairmont State). Other than Romine, who played fall ball, the other three players did not suit up for their respective schools.

However, Cook doesn’t see any rust and figures they will pick up right where they left off in 2012.

“Those guys haven’t missed a beat,” Cook said. “Every one of them looks great.”

As for the players competing at the high school level this past spring, each member received a taste of what it’s like to compete at a higher level. Mitch Davis and his Parkersburg Catholic teammates came within one game from advancing to the Class A state tournament.

Same goes for the St. Marys contingent of Tyler Davis, Michael Fox, Garrett Furr, Robbie Harper, Matthew Houser, Jarrod Lough, Johnny Riggs and Aaron Tice. Ritchie County’s Dylan Frye and Dylan Burgess also reached the regional bracket in Class AA.

“We don’t have anybody playing for this program that was part of a losing program,” Cook said. “We have a bunch of kids who have been there before. Hopefully, all this success they had in the spring rolls through into the summer.”

Post 79 opens its season Saturday with a doubleheader against Cambridge (Ohio) Post 84 beginning at 1 p.m. at Dave Wilson Field in St. Marys. The lineup will go as follows: Mitch Davis in center field, Tony Brunicardi at shortstop, Lough at third base, Romine at catcher, Burgess at pitcher, Houser at first base, Bolin in right field, Harper at second base and Newhart in left field.

Tice could be unavailable for as many as three weeks after suffering a stress fracture on his left foot.

“By far this is the best lineup we’ve had,” Cook said. “We should score a lot of runs, just like we did last year.”

The pitching staff is deep. Cook can call on as many as eight arms. His top five include Burgess, Tyler Davis, Harper, Lough and Newhart. Furr, Frye and Riggs provide depth.

A member of Area 3 in the past, Post 79 joins Moundsville Post 3, Wheeling Post 1 and Weirton Post 10 in Area 1 this year.

“I’m looking forward with what we have,” Cook said. “I’m just going to try and put out the best lineup and get out of the way, and let them do their thing.”