Jul. 26—FREDERICK — On seemingly every day of the American Legion state tournament, Fort Cumberland has had a different player rise to the occasion.
Wes Athey was the latest to answer the call.
The left-handed starting pitcher battled into the seventh inning on the mound, and at the plate, he belted a homer to give himself a much-needed insurance run.
Behind Athey, Fort Cumberland staved off elimination to advance to the final day of the state tournament, downing LaPlata Post 82, 5-2, on Monday morning at McCurdy Field.
Post 13 will take on FSK Post 11 in the state championship at McCurdy Field on Tuesday at 10 a.m. Because FSK hasn't lost yet in tournament play, Fort Cumberland will have to beat the host squad twice.
"They played a good solid game, we did the things we did on Friday and Saturday," Fort Cumberland manager Scott Stevenson said. "We got great pitching out of Wes. I can't be any happier.
"I used him sparingly throughout the season, and he went out and threw 105 strong pitches. And for Alex (Kennell) to come in and do what he did (to get the save), that's a team.
"To get to Tuesday is quite an accomplishment, but we're not done yet."
Fort Cumberland opened the state tournament with back-to-back tidy victories over Funkstown, 3-1, and Wicomico, 5-2, on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
Despite a letdown against FSK in an 11-6 defeat on Sunday night, Post 13 had a short memory, returning to the formula of solid pitching, clean defense and timely hitting that brought them success.
Athey was a steadying force on the bump, scattering 11 hits to allow just two runs in 6 1/3 innings of work with three strikeouts and two walks.
The Davis & Elkins standout and Allegany grad didn't have pinpoint command of his fastball, so he relied on his curveball in big moments to great success.
Athey got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second with back-to-back strikeouts on offspeed pitches. He stranded a pair of runners in scoring position the following inning, using the curveball to strike out LaPlata lead-off man Brett Michael, who finished 2 for 4.
The southpaw entered the seventh at 95 pitches and left the game after hitting his pitch limit with a runner on first and one out, but Kennell recorded the final two outs to stranding two men on base for the save.
LaPlata will be kicking itself after leaving 11 men on base in an elimination game.
"I would've liked to finish the game, but sometimes I couldn't execute," Athey said. "I was really relying on my curveball. That's what I've gone with all year. Set up with the fastball, and when they're thinking fastball's coming again, you just give them the curveball."
Athey was also one of two Fort Cumberland hitters to finish with two base hits along with Landon McAlpine, who singled twice. The big one from Athey was a solo shot over the left-center field fence to lead-off the fifth inning, which gave Post 13 a 5-2 lead.
"I got a fastball on the outside corner, and I've been really working on that," Athey said. "That's what I've struggled with. I've really fine-tuned that to become a better all-around hitter.
"That kid was giving me all curveballs all last at-bat, so I figured he was going to mess with me and give me a fastball, adjust if he gave me a curveball. He gave me a fastball, and I hit it."
LaPlata took a first-inning lead when Andrew Leginze lined a pitch to left field for a two-out RBI, and Fort Cumberland just couldn't seem to find an opening. In each of the first three frames, Post 13 hit a hard ball right at somebody.
Allan Stevenson grounded into a double play in the first inning because the second baseman was standing on second base with a runner stealing. Kennell lined a ball up the middle in the second that took the pitcher's glove off but resulted in an out.
In the third frame, Bradyn Speir tagged a pitch to center field with a runner in scoring position, but it hung up just long enough for Michael to get under it.
Yet, it was only a matter of time for Fort Cumberland to break through. McAlpine worked a four-pitch bases-loaded RBI walk in the top of the fourth to tie the game, and Tyler Wilhelm legged out an RBI infield single for the lead.
The LaPlata second baseman hurried the throw on Wilhelm's go-ahead knock, allowing another run to scamper home. Speir tacked on a fourth run in the inning — all with two outs — on an RBI single for a 4-1 Post 13 edge after four.
LaPlata answered in the bottom of the fourth on a perfectly placed bunt down the third-base line by Colton Sweeney that plated a run, but Athey got it back with his fifth-inning dinger.
LaPlata's Dylan Brown was dealt the loss, allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits in seven complete innings, striking out four and walking three.
Post 82 out-hit Fort Cumberland, 11-8, behind a 3 for 4, one-RBI day by Leginze, and two-hit games by Michael and Brown. Griffin Madden doubled for Post 13.
Fort Cumberland has options for Tuesday on the mound with Cayden Bratton regaining availability after three days of rest. The right-hander got through 5 1/3 innings on just 76 pitches in a win over Funkstown on Friday, allowing one unearned run.
"I'm happy to have won today and to be here Tuesday," Scott Stevenson said. "We're going to put a game-plan together tomorrow and see what happens."
Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.