ALTAMONT — Coach Jeff Fritchnitch realized his Altamont Post 512 team needed a little spark after a gut-wrenching loss in the District 23 American Junior Legion winners' bracket title to Vandalia Post 95. Post 512 hit into a one-out, bases-loaded double play in the top of the seventh inning that would have likely broke a 1-1 tie for good, then fell one run short in extra innings when a dropped fly ball to right field in the bottom of the ninth gave Post 95 a 2-1 victory."I pulled them back behind the dugout before the [second] game started," Post 512 coach Jeff Fritchtnitch said. "I said, 'The thing about it, you're too good of a baseball team to end the season right here, right now.'"Post 512 needed to put the setback in its rearview, as it was playing in the losers' bracket championship against Newton Post 20 no more than 15 minutes later. Post 20 looked quite impressive earlier in the day, cruising to a 10-0 victory over Teutopolis Post 924 in the losers' bracket play-in game. Having missed out on one shot to move on to Centralia and a guaranteed spot in division action, fourth-seeded Post 512 didn't let a second opportunity slip away. Fritchtnitch's squad busted open a five-run second inning en route to a 6-2 victory that put Post 512 one win away from division play."It just comes down to—you can sulk over that loss, which isn't going to do you any good, because nothing is going to change, or you can tell yourself as a team that you need to go out there and play good baseball," Fritchtnitch said. His team definitely got the memo. After leaving a runner stranded in scoring position in the first, Post 512 began the second inning with a Cole Borders walk, Jacob Miller single and Devon Guerrettaz walk to load the bases with nobody out.Caden Miller popped up to center, but Caleb Fritchtnitch began what would be five straight RBI at-bats when he laid down a perfect bunt that rolled dead just inside the first-base line to score Borders. Nick Miller avenged his ninth-inning error from the morning game with an RBI single, and Brandon Helmuth made it a 3-0 ballgame when he reached first on balls. Starting pitcher Jonah Wendling left from there in favor of Bryan Spitzer, who hit Post 512's Adam Goeckner to score another run. The final tally of the big second frame came off Klaiton Wolff's line-drive single to center to cap the scoring at five. "That was really important because all of a sudden, the whole atmosphere of our dugout changed," coach Fritchtnitch said. "You go from being really tense and a little bit bummed out because you got beat, to all of a sudden guys were spitting seeds and throwing them at me, that's what it's all about. "We've kind of played that way all year long, we come and get down to business, but we also like to have a little bit of fun doing it."That laid-back mentality led to another run one inning later. Guerrettaz was walked by Tyler Zuber, Post 20's third pitcher of the game, to begin the frame, then advanced to third after a stolen base and balk. Caden Miller brought him home in the ensuing at-bat with a bloop single that dropped short in center.The 6-0 lead was never in serious danger, as Miller was also dealing on the mound for the better part of the afternoon. After allowing no hits over the final 2.2 innings of the morning game, Miller continued his strong showing by carrying a no-hitter through the first four innings against Post 20. "He doesn't throw the ball super hard, but he's a great location pitcher," Fritchtnitch said. "He mixes up his changeup, his curveball, he has a really good sinker ball. He was keeping those batters off balance."Miller was retired after allowing one run off a fifth-inning RBI-double from Jake Lidy, closing his day with four strikeouts in a winning effort. Helmuth entered in the sixth, and gave up one run off an RBI from Troy Houchin. But Helmuth was undeterred, as he finished the contest with fourth strikeouts over two frames to pick up the save and preserve a 6-2 win."Brandon came in and we changed speeds up on them," Fritchtnitch said. "They had a tough time with that."It was a total team effort for Post 512, as six players finished with one run apiece. The win with its back against the wall meant that Post 512 lived to fight at least another day. Fritchnitch's squad plays today at 5 p.m. in Centralia for a right to advance to division action next Saturday in Murphysboro.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at email@example.com
Altamont	0 5 1	0 0 0	0	6 6 0Newton		0 0 0	0 1 1 	0	2 2 2WP - C. Miller	LP - Wendling Altamont: N. Miller (1B, RBI); Helmuth (RBI); Goeckner (2B, RBI); Wolff (1B, RBI); J. Miller (1B); C. Miller (1B, RBI); Fritchnitch (1B, RBI).Newton: Houchin (1B, RBI); Lidy (2B).