Shaking off the rust

Shinnston Post 31 second baseman Jordan Gillespie tags out and knocks over Fairmont Post 17 baserunner Nick Smith during their American Legion baseball game at the Lincoln High School field Wednesday. Fairmont won, 12-9.

Playing this past spring at Potomac State College, Tyler Musgrave was used primarily as a pitcher.

“Actually, that’s all I did,” he said. “They don’t let any of the pitchers bat ever.”

Well, Potomac State head coach Doug Little might want to reconsider that with the way Musgrave has been swinging the bat for Fairmont American Legion Post 17’s baseball team.

With Fairmont trailing 6-4 after seven innings, Musgrave hit a game-tying solo home run in the eighth and followed with a game-breaking, three-run blast in the ninth as Post 17 rallied past Shinnston Post 31 for a 12-9 victory Wednesday at the Lincoln High School field.

Musgrave finished the game with three hits, three runs scored and four RBI, including a double and a walk. In Post 17’s opening win Tuesday night against Parkersburg, Musgrave also collected three hits and three RBI — one being a two-run homer. So in two games, Musgrave has six hits, three home runs and seven RBI.

And pitchers can’t hit? Guess again.

“I think in practice I got a lot of the rust out,” Musgrave said. “We had two or three days of good practice, and I was just hacking as hard as I could to try and get a feel for it. That helped me out a lot.

“So my back feels fresh and right now my swing is all right, I guess.”

Alex Slusser, who hadn’t pitched since last summer for Post 17, started and worked into the ninth inning. After 113 pitches and allowing the first three batters to reach safely in the last frame, Slusser was lifted in favor of Zack Linn, who induced three groundouts, hit a batter and surrendered a double to close the game.

For the most part, Slusser kept Shinnston’s hitters off balance with a knuckleball down in the zone. Outside of the ninth inning, the only time Slusser was hit hard was when the right-hander would mix in a fastball. Other than that, his knuckler was dancing to the tune of five strikeouts, four walks, one hit batsman and 10 scattered hits.

“The first couple innings I wasn’t as relaxed out there,” Slusser said. “Then I started to settle down a little bit and find my groove. And at the end, I just ran out of it. My pitches stopped working. But Zack did a real nice job to finish it off.”

A seesaw affair through the first four innings found Shinnston on top, 5-4, highlighted by Jordan Gillespie’s two-run homer in the third.

Shinnston added a single run, which was one of its four unearned tallies, in the seventh before Fairmont stormed back against reliever Jesse Amos. Post 31’s right-hander entered in the fifth and retired the first seven he faced and nine of the first 10 Fairmont batters.

Then came the eighth inning.

“We got the bats going a little bit late, but we did get them going,” Post 17 head coach Ken Beerbower said. “Everybody contributed really well.”

Aaron Ford led off with a double, advanced to third on a Joey Buonaiuto groundout and scored on Brad Dodrill’s RBI groundout to make it 6-5. And with two outs, Musgrave just got enough of the ball to lift it over the left-field fence, tying the game at 6-all.

In the ninth, Preston Musgrave — Tyler’s younger brother — got the rally going with a leadoff double. Tom Alvaro was intentionally walked with one out, which was followed by a double steal that put runners in scoring position.

Slusser, who had been hitless on the day with a couple of strikeouts, delivered a run-scoring single that opened up the offensive floodgates. Ford followed with a RBI single, Buonaiuto loaded the bases with a bunt single and Dodrill hit a RBI sacrifice fly for a 9-6 lead.

Tyler Musgrave provided the exclamation point with a crushing, three-run homer that landed on the adjacent field up on a hill well beyond the left-field fence.

“The first one was kind of like a mooner out there,” Musgrave said. “I think he (Amos) just hung one of those curveballs, and I was waiting on it. That (second) one felt a lot better than the first one.”

Slusser and Beerbower were both in awe.

“That’s pretty incredible,” Slusser said. “I talked about the new additions to the team being key. He was a big one.”

“He’s really getting a full shoulder turn into the ball and driving it,” Beerbower added. “He’s got great hand quickness. His bat speed is incredible. And that’s pretty impressive.”

On top of Tyler’s big day, Preston Musgrave also had three hits and two RBI. Ford added three hits and one RBI, while Buonaiuto singled and doubled with one RBI and Nick Smith had two hits, including a run-scoring, bunt single. Drew Retton singled and drew two walks. Dodrill was hitless, but the catcher had two RBI and saved a run with a diving tag on the tail end of a double play in the fifth inning.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get the rust off after being out for a couple weeks,” Beerbower said. “I think the team’s meshing really well.”

Post 17 (2-0) begins play in the Hillbilly Classic today with a 2 p.m. game against Maynard (Ohio) Post 666 and an 8:30 p.m. contest against Buckhannon Post 7.

E-mail Andrew Manzo at dmanzo@timeswv.com.

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