Danville vies for state supremacy

Danville vies for state supremacy

DANVILLE — Two wins, two losses.

That's how the Danville Post 210 Gold baseball team began its 2018 American Senior Legion campaign.

It wasn't a picturesque opening for a program that qualified for the Legion state tournament each of the last two seasons.

But it also didn't bother coach Allan Shepherd.

"I actually had a reporter ask me, 'Is it time to hit the panic button?'" Shepherd recalled. "And never at any time did I think it was."

It's easy to see why. Danville now sits at 30-5 and is one of six teams vying for state supremacy beginning today in Alton.

Danville has the final first-day game on the tournament docket, taking on host Alton Post 126 (25-16) at 5 p.m. That follows a tilt between Elgin Post 57 (28-10) and Newton Post 20 (20-4), as well as a bout pitting Mt. Prospect Post 525 (13-6) against Milan Post 569 (19-7).

"The only team we've seen is the host team, but I've done some background," Shepherd said. "It's going to be competitive. Last year was good, and this year will be just as good."

This will be Shepherd's fifth state showcase helming Danville, which captured the 4th Division championship for the third consecutive year by knocking off Mattoon 9-4 on Tuesday night.

For Shepherd's money, the club's defining moment came well before Post 210 battled for a spot at Alton. Instead, it was a triumph against reigning state champion Edwardsville in late June.

Why does this game stick out to Shepherd?

"Because we beat them," he said with a laugh.

After that up-and-down opening stretch of the season, Danville has experienced mostly smooth sailing. That's come on the back of many things, but especially stellar glovework.

"This is the best defensive team I've had in 17 years," Shepherd said. "These guys, I think they get a little excited when somebody gets on. They look forward to seeing what they can do with it."

Shepherd also feels there aren't any easy outs in his lineup, from the leadoff spot to the last hitter.

"We don't worry about the 8-hole or 9-hole coming up," Shepherd said. "We actually look forward to it. They handle the bat well and do things the way they're supposed to."

Good news exists for area prep baseball fans, too, if they're interested in checking out the Legion state tournament: Local connections dot Shepherd's roster.

The team includes current or former athletes from Danville (Andy Bunton, Ernest Plummer, DeVante Hicks, Keegan West, Noah Nelson), Oakwood (Chase Vinson, Skylar Bolton, Noah Ruch), Salt Fork (Wyatt Boyer, Gage Romack), Bismarck-Henning/Rossville-Alvin (Noah Jordan, Colten Arford), Westville (Dalton Dalbey), Hoopeston Area (Ryan Drayer) and Schlarman (Rance Bryant).

"The leadership has been fantastic," Shepherd said. "They're not an overpowering team. They're just doing things the right way."

Could that carry Danville through this four-day event and to a top-two finish?

If so, it'll be one of Illinois' representatives in the Great Lakes Regional, featuring clubs from Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. The winner of that will advance to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C., next month.

Shepherd isn't looking that far ahead just yet, even if Post 210 has advanced to the Great Lakes Regional each of the last two seasons after finishing as state runner-up in 2017 and winning a state title in 2016. But he's certainly enjoying his pupils proving preseason doubters wrong.

"I'd like to get used to stuff like this, but it's a rarity to have this much talent out of this small an area," Shepherd said. "This is the year everyone thought they'd drop off, and they haven't."

TEAMS INVOLVED

Alton Post 126 (25-16)

Danville Post 210 (30-5)

Elgin Post 57 (28-10)

Milan Post 569 (19-7)

Mt. Prospect Post 525 (13-6)

Newton Post 20 (20-4)

AT STAKE

The top two teams advance to the Great Lakes Regional, which includes teams from Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, for a shot at making the American Legion World Series.

TODAY’S GAMES

GAME 1 — Elgin (28-10) vs. Newton (20-4), 11 a.m.

GAME 2 — Mt. Prospect (13-6) vs. Milan (19-7), 2 p.m.

GAME 3 — Danville (30-5) vs. Alton (25-16), 5 p.m.

SUNDAY’S GAMES

GAME 4 — Loser Game 2 vs. Loser Game 3, 11 a.m.

GAME 5 — Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 2 p.m.

GAME 6 — Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 1, 5 p.m.

MONDAY’S GAMES

GAME 7 — Winner Game 4 vs. Loser Game 5, 11 a.m.

GAME 8 — Winner Game 5 vs. Winner Game 6, 2/5 p.m.

*GAME 9 — Winner Game 7 vs. Loser Game 6, 2 p.m.

^GAME 10 — Loser Game 8 vs. Winner Game 7 or 9, 5 p.m.

*Game necessary if Winner Game 3 loses Game 6

^Game necessary if Loser Game 8 has exactly one defeat

TUESDAY’S GAMES

@GAME 10 — Loser Game 8 vs. Winner Game 7 or 9, 11 a.m.

GAME 11 — Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 9 or 10, 11 a.m./2 p.m.

#GAME 12 — Winner Game 11 vs. Loser Game 11, 2 p.m.

@Date and time dependent on Monday’s other results

#Game necessary if both teams have one loss

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