Mark Kahlenberg, head coach of the Hope Mills Boosters entry in American Legion baseball play this summer, is glad for the deep run made by Terry Sanford in this year’s state 3-A playoffs. But he admits it’s made his job of putting a competitive Legion team together challenging.
After holding a preliminary workout a couple of weeks ago, Kahlenberg has settled on drawing from Cape Fear, South View, Purnell Swett, Terry Sanford and North Duplin for this year’s squad.
“We can only take 5,000 total enrollments,’’ he said. “We had an open tryout.”
Terry Sanford made it to the 3-A Regional finals before losing in three games to Wilmington New Hanover.
As of last Wednesday, Kahlenberg was waiting to hear from several of the Terry Sanford players on their plans to join the Boosters this summer.
At the writing of this story, the only Terry Sanford player committed was former Bulldog Damian Puczylowski, who will be a member of the first baseball team at Fayetteville Technical Community College next spring.
“If we get a good turnout from them, I feel we’ll have a great chance,’’ Kahlenberg said. “If we can get nine or 10 of the guys we have listed to pitch, I feel good about being in that state final eight in the middle of July.’’
Even without the Terry Sanford players, the Boosters are off to a good start. They were 2-0 entering their first home game of the season last Wednesday against Wallace, which was rained out after being moved from their usual home field at South View to Methodist University.
Kahlenberg figures competition will come from the usual suspects, traditional powers Whiteville and Wilmington Post 10, along with a Wallace team that returns with a solid core from last season.
A couple of Hope Mills returnees looking for a good year are Puczylowski and South View’s Riley Caudle.
Puczylowski is looking forward to a reunion with his Terry Sanford teammates. “If they all get out here, we’ll dominate,’’ he said.
Caudle said Legion baseball is a great environment. “You get to meet new people and you play so many games,’’ he said.
A major change for Legion ball will be a switch to seven-inning games this summer. Kahlenberg thinks the change will allow teams to lean more heavily on their top two or three pitchers.
“A lot happens when you get into the bullpens,’’ he said. “We will have to place more emphasis on scoring runs early and trying to get into other teams’ bullpens earlier.’’
The team has planned a special ceremony to honor longtime Hope Mills coach Doug Watts, who retired and recently moved to the coast after 51 years in American Legion baseball.
The ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. on June 9, a Saturday, when Hope Mills plays Jacksonville.
PHOTO: Damian Puczylowski