SHELBY Before the start of Shelby Post 82’s baseball practice Tuesday, third baseman Jackson Mims thought long and hard about what could be his final time at Keeter Stadium.
“It’s a special place,” said Mims, a Shelby High graduate. “I’ve played on it for four years. It’s defintely my favorite place I’ve ever played.”
If things go right this weekend, Mims and his Post 82 teammates could get in a few more games on their home field.
Shelby opens play Thursday in the American Legion Southeast Regional tournament, played at Asheboro’s McCrary Park. The winner of that and the seven other regional tournaments advance to the American Legion World Series, which has been held at Keeter Stadium since 2011.
Post 82 (44-2) qualified for the Southeast Regional by winning the North Carolina state title, played July 25-30 in Wilson. Shelby won back-to-back games over Area IV rival Gaston County on the final day to win its seventh state title and first since 2001.
“We were pretty good last year, but we weren’t this good,” said pitcher Ethan Carpenter, a 2013 Burns High graduate who recently completed his freshman season at Tusculum. “We kinda got a taste of what we could’ve done (last year). Coming back this year, we all wanted to do it and knew we could do it.
“We all thought about state championships, playing in Shelby for the World Series and everything. We all rallied around that same goal, and it’s made us much tighter.”
Carpenter and Mims have played a big role in getting Post 82 to this point.
Carpenter is the ace of Shelby’s pitching staff, going 13-0 with a 1.62 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 89 innings pitched. Mims, who has signed with East Carolina, leads Post 82 in home runs (five), RBIs (56) and runs scored (50), and is third in batting average (.379).
Carpenter is just part of a strong Shelby pitching staff that includes Phillip Black (10-2, 2.41), Alec Bivins (9-0, 2.25), Cody Fitch (7-0, 1.71) and Jalen Byrd (1-1, seven saves, 1.98).
As for Mims, he’s one of five Post 82 players hitting .300 or better. Brock Melton and Dustin Jones lead the team with .393 and .390 batting averages, respectively; Nick Hastings (now at North Carolina) is hitting .329 with 39 RBIs, and Jay Seagle is hitting .326.
Yet the real improvement in Shelby’s players has come in the team’s chemistry, according to coach Mike Grayson.
“They’ve all grown up playing together,” said Grayson, Post 82’s head coach of 24 years. “It’s been a plus for our program to have that camaraderie, to get that closeness.
“You don’t have to have the best players to have the best team. You have to have players who want to play together and have the same common goals in mind.”
That goal, according to both Carpenter and Mims, is to get another chance to play at Keeter Stadium. However, Shelby first has to get through the double-elimination regional tournament, opening against Georgia state champion Covington Post 32 at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
The winner will play either Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Post 34 or Jacksonville (Fla.) Post 88 on Friday.
“It’s definitely one game at a time now,” Mims said. “Everybody on this team has played together for a long, long time. We just don’t want a certain game to be our last. We want to keep playing together for as long as we can.”
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