ASHEBORO — Ronnie Pugh and his coaching staff have built Randolph County Post 45 into one of the top programs in the Southeast.
That has not only been proven at the state level, but at the regional tournaments Post 45 has hosted over the past decade.
Three consecutive trips to the American Legion World Series in Shelby from 2017-19 has solidified this program into one many attempt to emulate.
Now, Post 45 is aiming for a return trip to Shelby.
The 2023 American Legion season began Sunday in Mocksville.
This year’s Area III features five teams in the Northern Division (Randolph County, new member Chatham County, High Point, Foothills and Greensboro) and six teams in the Southern Division (Rowan County, Concord, Kannapolis, Davidson County, Mocksville-Davie and Mooresville).
Stanly County, Eastern Randolph and Sandy Ridge have all dropped out of American Legion play this summer.
“We’re excited about it,” said Pugh, whose team is scheduled to play Wednesday night at Rowan County. “It’s just hard to get things started and get them going.
“We don’t work out any of the varsity players who are still in the playoffs. We have our first practice tonight (May 18) with eight or nine players and then we play Sunday. We’ll move some guys up from the Juniors and could be like that for a couple of weeks.
“We’re pulling for the guys in the playoffs. We want them to go as far as they possibly can. When they get here, we think we will be very competitive.”
Post 45 is coming off a season in which they went 32-13, including a Northern Division championship. Randolph County advanced to the state tournament last season, finishing 2-2, before going 2-2 at the Southeast Regional.
Post 45 will draw from Asheboro, Randleman, Southwestern Randolph, North Moore, Uwharrie Charter Academy and a few other high schools. RHS, UCA and North Moore all advanced to at least the fourth round of the high school playoffs.
Returning to Post 45 are AHS’ Tanner Marsh and Josh Meadows, Montgomery Central’s Drew Harmon and collegiate players Robert Garner, Braylon Hayes, Alex Martinez and Carson Whitehead. SWR’s Adam Cole, who signed a preferred walk-on football scholarship with East Carolina, may be available early and the availability of SWR teammate Tyler Parks, who is headed to UNC, is also unknown.
Players expected to join this core group include UCA’s Carter Brown, Grat Dalton and Caleb Stickle and RHS’ Hunter Atkins, Drake Purvis, Austin Lemons and Caleb Dunn.
“I really like this group,” Pugh said. “It always comes down to pitching. We have several arms, guys who have been starting in high school all year. We back off of them like we usually do and go with those guys who haven’t thrown a lot to build them up. Everything should settle in two or three weeks.”
Pugh once again has constructed a heavy schedule as Post 45 will play approximately 30 games before the playoffs are set to begin July 7.
“We do that for a number of reasons,” Pugh said. “It prepares them for a college schedule, to simulate the college experience. Some of them will go into spells where they hit the wall, especially the younger ones, and we let them get refocused.
“Everyone is tired of practicing anyway so we want them to get out and play. It also sets up well for the playoffs where we are playing a lot of games in a short period.”
There’s a lot to look at with these early games.
“We just go out and play and have fun doing it and see how things fall,” Pugh said. “But sometimes you get surprised by maybe a pitcher you weren’t counting on who throws it well or a younger player.”
Post 45 is scheduled to make its home debut Saturday at a renovated McCrary Park.