Belmont Post 144’s baseball history was successful but star-crossed

By Richard Walker

Belmont Post 144 singularly sponsored American Legion baseball teams for 48 years from 1933 to 1996.

It won four regular season titles and advanced to the area finals four times. Post had a 470-511-3 overall record in a history that was a bit star-crossed.

Much of that had to do with the eras of Post 144’s best teams.

Belmont’s area runner-up teams came in 1958, 1966, 1967 and 1981. Those year came along when Shelby was in the midst of powerful teams in the 1950s, Gastonia was setting an area record in the 1960s, Hickory was in one its top 1960s eras and Cherryville was re-emerging as a power in the early 1980s.

Former Belmont Abbey standout and future East Gaston principal Neb Hollis coached Belmont Post 144 to regular season titles and area runner-up finishes in 1966 and 1967.

Arguably, the two best Post 144 teams came in 1966 and 1967 when they finished as runner-up to the last of Gastonia’s then-record five straight Area IV championship-winners in 1966 and when Hickory Post 48 was set to displace Gastonia with the first of its back-to-back area champions in 1967.

The 1966 team finished with Belmont’s best all-time record of 25-7 and came in a year in which Post 144 won the Area IV regular season title with an impressive 19-3 mark.

Coached by Neb Hollis, the team had top pitchers like Warren Garrett and Dewayne Moore, top hitters like John Rudisill and Larry Hartsell and roared through the regular season with losses only to Kings Mountain, Hickory and Bessemer City. It swept Marion, Shelby, Henrietta, Newton, Cherryville, Forest City, Granite Falls and Gastonia.

The most impressive wins were a 5-1 home victory at Davis Park over Cherryville in which Garrett struck out 18 and threw a one-hitter and a 14-0 home win over Kings Mountain in the return match after losing 5-3 at Kings Mountain earlier in the season.

In the playoffs, Belmont swept Henrietta two games to none before starting a series with Kings Mountain that was later stopped after one game.

The reason?

A protest filed after the N.C. Legion commissioner ruled Kings Mountain would advance to the next round despite losing two games to none in a series against Hickory; Hickory was being accused of using players from Newton after that post had folded its team.

So, after routing Kings Mountain 14-1 in the apparent second round series opener, the N.C. Legion committee overturned the decision on Hickory and Belmont was told it would now play Hickory in a second round series.

Post 144 eliminated Hickory in a nail-biting, rain-soaked series – Belmont won 2-1 in the opener, lost 4-3 in 12 innings, had a game rained out and won 5-3 in the decisive third game – to earn a trip to the Area IV championship series.

Awaiting Post 144 was longtime rival and four-time defending area champion Gastonia.

Future softball Hall of Famer and championship-winning youth football coach John Rudisill of Stanley was a standout Belmont Post 144 player in 1966 and 1967 before playing baseball at the University of North Carolina.

While Belmont had swept Post 23 in two regular season meetings, history didn’t favor Post 144.

Belmont had lost three of four previous playoff series to Gastonia, including losses in the 1964 and 1965 area semifinals. And even with the sweep, Gastonia had won 15 of the previous 22 meetings between the teams.

And while Post 23 would win again, Belmont outscored Gastonia 20-16 in the series.

Garrett improved to 11-0 on the season with a 7-2 win in the third game and Belmont held leads of 2-0 and 4-3 before Gastonia won an exhausting 16-inning marathon at Sims Legion Park in a 5-4 series clinching victory

Motivated by that near miss, Belmont won an Eastern Division regular season title in 1967 with a 13-1 record.

Coached again by Hollis, Post 144 lost only at Gastonia while sweeping Cherryville, Charlotte Post 380, Bessemer City and Kings Mountain.

Top pitchers Garrett and Moore returned along with Rudisill. Top hitter Dan Suggs and future major league Wilbur Howard were added to the lineup.

In the playoffs, Post 144 swept Forest City three games to none before needing five games to survive Charlotte Post 380 three games to two before running into Hickory.

Eventual major leaguer Wilbur Howard played for Belmont Post 144 in the 1967 season.

After Garrett pitched a 5-0 shutout win in the opener, a Post 48 team that would win the area title again in 1968 won four straight games – two by shutout – to claim series in five games.

Originally founded in 1933, Belmont would field teams until 1940 before sending its players to Gastonia from 1941 to 1956 then resuming its program in 1957. After the 1996 season, Post 144 combined with Stanley Post 266 to form the Gaston Braves.