Cherryille Post 100 overcame adversity to win area, state and regional before advancing to American Legion World Series title game
By Richard Walker
Ever since Cherryville Post 100 began its American Legion baseball program in 1937, success has often followed.
Cherryville has set Area IV records for championships (18) and regular season titles (22) in addition to building one of North Carolina’s top programs with seven state titles, five state runner-up finishes and 11 state tournament appearances.
Its current coach, Bobby Reynolds, is the state’s all-time winningest Legion baseball coach with 811 victories entering the 2021 season.
And the program’s winningest team came in 2003 when it had a 45-10 overall record, won the Area IV title, N.C. title and Southeast Regional title before finishing as American Legion World Series runner-up in Bartlesville, Okla.
Even with all that record-setting success – Cherryville’s 2003 team and Shelby’s 2014 team are Area IV record-holders for single-season victories (45) – Reynolds’ team had its season defined by how it handled adversity.
That all started the previous season of 2002 when a No. 3-seeded Cherryville team was upset in its 2002 opening playoff series against Eastern Catawba with a Game 5 loss on its homefield.
The next season, Cherryville returned six starters who were determined to erase those painful memories.
Seven players on the roster took advantage of a change in eligibility that gave most college freshman the opportunity play Legion baseball for another season – and Chris Mason (UNC-Greensboro), Jay Heafner (Davidson) and David Wise (Limestone) thrived in particular thrived for Post 100.
Mason would turn in one of the most dominant pitching seasons in state history while Heafner at shortstop and Wise at catcher were defensive stalwarts. All three also shined at the plate.
Other players on the team’s final roster were Brock Alexander, Jackson Beam, Chris Cook, Matt Craig, Josh Glover, Chris Halubka, Brandon Hurt, Steven Justice, Ben Lastra, Wayne McDonald, Josh McSwain, Shane Summer, Johnathan Walker, Travis Walls and Evan Wise.
Even with Mason, Heafner and Wise turning in spectacular seasons, Cherryville had to overcome adversity in two of their four Area IV playoff series just to get to the state tournament.
After sweeping Steele Creek three games to none in the opening round, Cherryville and Mason lost 8-5 to defending Area IV champion in the opener of a best-of-five second round series. It would prove to be Mason’s only pitching loss of the season.
After a rainout gave the workhorse some rest, Mason would pick up the save in each of the next three games as Cherryville would take a 3-1 series victory over Hickory. Mason went one inning to save a 4-3 win for Justice in Game 2, two innings to save an 8-6 win for Heafner in Game 3 and 1 1-3 innings to save a 4-3 win for McDonald in Game 4.
It set up a best-of-seven semifinal series against longtime rival Caldwell County that would send the winner to the state tournament.
Cherryville promptly fell behind three games to one with Mason’s five-hit 8-1 victory in Game 2 the lone Post 100 victory.
But Cherryville would bounce back – and emphatically.
Post 100 routed Caldwell County 15-0 in a game shortened to seven innings by the mercy rule in Game 5, then Mason struck out 17 in an 8-2 win in Game 6 to set up a winner-take-all Game 7 at Cherryville’s Fraley Field.
Even as Caldwell County took a 5-1 lead after 3 1-2 innings, Cherryville scored 10 runs in its last five innings powered by home runs from Mason, Hurt, Wise and Alexander – and Mason pitched the last four innings to pick up the victory and close out a 4-3 series victory.
Cherryville would then sweep Pineville three games to none for the Area IV title before it went 4-0 in the state tournament played at Fayetteville’s Riddle Stadium and at Methodist College to advance to the Southeast Regional at Rock Hill, S.C.
Mason came up huge in the regional, winning three of the four games as Post 100 knocked off Sebastian, Fla., 4-0, Rock Hill 5-4, Tuscaloosa, Ala., 7-3, Spartanburg, S.C., 9-5 and Tuscaloosa 4-0 to earn a trip to the American Legion World Series in Bartlesville, Okla.
In the opener, Mason’s scoreless innings streak that dated to the July 19 Caldwell County series ended at 47 2-3 innings but Cherryville knocked off Blue Springs, Mo., 3-1.
A 9-6 second-day loss to Haddon Heights, N.J., meant Post 100 would face “win or go home” pressure matchups the rest of the tournament.
Cherryville was successful on two of those three games, defeating Northridge, Cal., 12-4 to advance to the semifinals, then routing Corvallis, Ore., 14-1 to advance to the 2003 ALWS title game. Mason struck out 15 in six innings of the semifinal and slugged two of his team’s seven home runs; Wise and Hurt also hit two home runs and Alexander one for Cherryville.
In the final, Mason pitched six of relief innings due to a pitching rule that limited him to 12 innings in a 72-hour period. When Mason relieved in the fourth, Cherryville was already behind 4-2 and another runner scored before Mason got out of the jam.
Meanwhile, Rochester, Minn., ace Aaron Craig yielded two first-inning runs to Cherryville before firing a six-hitter in a 5-2 ALWS championship game victory. (Craig finished the 2003 Legion season with a 12-0 record and would eventually spend four seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization after they drafted him in the 28th round of the 2004 major league draft.)
Mason, who would spend seven seasons in professional baseball after being a second round pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2005, would finish the 2003 Legion season with a 15-1 record, six saves, a 0.69 ERA and 233 strikeouts and 76 hits allowed in 131 1-3 innings. He won the Bob Feller Award for most strikeouts in Legion national tournament competition and in 2019 was selected to the all-time ALWS team by veteran Legion official scorer J.J. Guinozzo.
Mason also finished with a .397 batting average along with nine home runs and 47 RBIs.
Heafner, the 2005 Southern Conference player of the year at Davidson, would spend two years in the Texas Rangers organization before becoming one of that organization’s top scouts. He finished the 2003 Legion season with a .382 average, two home runs and 25 RBIs.
Other top pitchers for Cherryville in 2003 were Halubka (9-1), Justice (8-3 with one save), Heafner (4-1 with four saves), McDonald (3-2), Walls (2-0) and Beam (2-1).
Other top hitters were Wise (.434, 17 home runs, 60 RBIs), Hurt (.322, 16 home runs, 59 RBIs), Alexander (.275, eight home runs, 29 RBIs), Craig (.263, three home runs, 26 RBIs) and Walker (.262, 16 RBIs).