Cherryville dominated local area American Legion baseball in 1997 and 1998, advanced to Post 100’s first-ever ALWS title game

By Richard Walker

Every summer, most American Legion fans expect Cherryville Post 100 to annually compete for top honors in the area, the state and possibly the nation.

It wasn’t always that way.

Before the 1997 season, Post 100 had won two state titles, five N.C. Area IV championships and eight regular season titles.

In the years since a group coached by Bobby Reynolds featuring standout players like Ralph Roberts, Josh Cobb, Brian Sigmon, Brad Lane and Will Lane, Cherryville has been the area’s most dominant program with 14 more regular season championships, 13 more area titles and five more state championships.

The 22 regular season titles and 18 area titles are first in N.C. Area IV history and Post 100’s seven N.C. championships are tied for fifth in state history.

And it all started with the most challenging area title run in history.

A No. 21 seed in the 1997 Area IV playoffs – a seeding low enough that wouldn’t have allowed Cherryville to advance under the current format – Post 100 became far and away the lowest seed to win an area title.

Slowed by Cherryville High’s 1997 advance to the N.C. 2A state finals, Post 100 started the 1997 season 0-5 and 1-6 before limping into the playoffs with a 4-9 regular season record.

But once Reynolds had his full complement of players for the playoffs, the team picked up speed and rolled.

With Roberts winning the first game of series four times, Cherryville beat Kings Mountain three games to one, Caldwell County 3-0, Pineville 3-0, Paw Creek 3-1, Hickory 3-2, Kernersville 4-3 and Wayne County 4-2 to win the state title and advance to the Southeast Regional in Sumter, S.C. Cherryville trailed Hickory two games to one before winning the last two games for the area title.

Once in the regionals, Cherryville was the first team eliminated to finish with a 28-21 record.

The next season – and after Cherryville High’s 1A state title run – Post 100 won the Central Division regular season title before facing some playoff obstacles.

Post 100 beat Watauga three games to one, Shelby 3-0, Paw Creek 3-0, Caldwell 4-2, Rowan County 4-2 and Pitt County 4-3. Cherryville took nail-biting 10-9 victories in the last two games of the Pitt County series after falling behin 3-2 in the best-of-seven series to advance again to the Southeast Regional.

This time the event used a pool play format in Gallatin, Tenn., and Cherryville won two of three to advance to the single-elimination semifinals. Post 100 knocked off Sanford, Fla., and Charleston, S.C., in back-to-back games, with Roberts picking up a save against Sanford and getting the win against Charleston to advance Cherryville to the ALWS.

The 1998 ALWS was played in Las Vegas, Nev., where game temperatures surpassed 100 degrees on all five days of the event.

Roberts again was the star – he ended up winning the prestigious Bob Feller Pitching Award with 41 strikeouts in national competition – as Cherryville advanced all the way to a championship game 9-4 loss to Edwardsville, Ill.

Ralph Roberts

Roberts would eventually be drafted three times by major league teams before signing a free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves organization in 2001. After six seasons in the Braves organization, Roberts became a three-time United League championship-winner for Amarillo, Tex., in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Cobb and the Lane brothers played at Belmont Abbey and Sigmon at Western Carolina.

And their legacy remains in the records they set.

Roberts, who many consider the best player in Area IV’s rich history, hit .406 with 51 home runs and a 28-6 pitching record during his career. He remains the area’s top all-time home run hitter, fourth in pitching victories and 11th in batting average.

Sigmon (.393), Cobb (.373) and Brad Lane (.367) are among the area’s top career hitters.

And the 1997 and 1998 teams set home run-hitting records that may never be surpassed; The 1997 team hit a then-record 62 home runs before that mark was surpassed by the 107 hit by the 1998 team.

In 2018 when the Gaston Gazette did a 20-year remembrance story on the 1998 team, Reynolds had this to say about those teams:

“It just brings back so many great memories. We had some great players but more than that we had some really hard-working players who had a good time playing and won a lot of games.”