By Ryan Herman
Kinston Free Press
KINSTON - All the offensive firepower Kinston Post 43 head coach Ronnie Battle boasted about before the season started has jolted the team into a place it hasn’t been in quite some time.
The lack of pitching depth Battle was worried about before the summer’s first pitch wasn’t quite as bad as he thought it could be.
With a lineup loaded with big bats and a pitching staff that has defied expectations, Post 43 has made its deepest run in American Legion playoff action since 1970.
The Southern Division champion will face Northern Division champion Rocky Mount Post 58 in a best-of-five series to determine the Area I East champion that begins at 7 tonight at Rocky Mount. Games 2 and 4 will be held at Kinston High, also at 7 p.m.
Post 58 (19-5) is the defending conference title-winner, and is 4-0 in the postseason thus far, including a two-game sweep of Edenton Post 40 in the semifinals.
“This is a first for us,” Battle said, who has coached Post 43 for 13 years. “The talent level in Kinston and Lenoir County has gotten better each year.”
It took Kinston (14-6) three games to topple Wilson Post 13 over the weekend in a best-of-three conference semifinal series. Post 43 won Game 1 11-6 on Friday and fell 7-6 on Saturday.
It advanced to its first conference championship series in 40 years with a 6-1 win at Viking Field Sunday night, a process Battle said started when he began scouting area players and giving by-invitation-only roster spots instead of open tryouts.
“We started inviting players instead of holding tryouts because someone can really shine in a tryout then you find out as the season goes along he wasn’t really that talented,” Battle said.
“When you get the right group, things can happen.”
Battle knows his boys of summer will have a tough task against Post 58 if it wants a berth in the state tournament held in Asheboro later this month.
Rocky Mount boasts nine players from the home high school that went 22-3 this spring, three of whom were on the Gryphons’ 2008 state 3A championship team — Collins Cuthrell, Thomas Berry and Cameron Ramsey.
Cuthrell and Berry have banged a combined 17 home runs — 10 by Cuthrell, who has signed with Barton College — and each is hitting over .400.
“I know that Rocky Mount is a good, aggressive team. I see them similar to us in that they like to slug the baseball,” Battle said. “We’re going to have to continue to play solid baseball.
“We’re looking forward to it.”