Cherryville’s rebirth as a Legion power started in 1981 and 1982

By Richard Walker

There’s little doubt American Legion baseball has been big in Cherryville since it started in 1937.

Cherryville Post 100’s 1981 N.C. state championship team

But if you want to point to the teams that forever made Post 100 an annual power, look no further than Cherryville’s 1981 and 1982 teams.

The 1981 team won a state title and the 1982 finished as state runner-up and the team’s roster produced two future record-setting coaches, including Post 100’s current head coach.

Much of the talent of the team was home-grown, as Cherryville High won N.C. 2A state titles in 1980 and 1982 featuring standout players like Kent Alexander, David Buff, Shaun Lauer, Brad Long, Bobby Reynolds, Rusty Stroupe and John Warlick.

They also got exceptional players from other schools like Burns (Tim Mayhew), East Lincoln (Jimmy Fortenberry), Lincolnton (Adrian Brewer).

Under the direction of Hunter Huss High coach (and Cherryville native) Don Saine, Post 100 put together its first back-to-back 30-game winners until the glory days of the late 1990s and 2000s with Reynolds as its head coach

When you realize Cherryville didn’t even have a team in 1978 and 1979, the feats of the 1981 and 1982 teams are all the more amazing.

Longtime Post 100 athletic officer Bill Abernathy, a 1998 N.C. Legion Hall of Famer, knew good young talent was going to be available and he first hired former major leaguer (and Cherryville Post 100 player) Tony Cloninger to coach the team in 1980, then hired Saine to coach the team.

Saine’s coaching acumen fit perfectly with a team that would win back-to-back Western Division titles in the regular season before rolling to Area IV titles each season and deep into the state playoffs both years as well.

The 1981 team lost only to Forest City in the regular season before beating Shelby three games to one, Hickory 4-0 and Belmont 4-1 to advance to win Post 100’s first Area IV championship since 1961.

Cherryville found statewide competition to its liking as much as local competition as it routed Eastern Randolph four games to one and Snow Hill four games to none to advance to the Mid-Atlantic Regional in Lynchburg, Va.

After an impressive 25-1 win over host Lynchburg, Va., in the tournament opener in which Lauer had five hits, Reynolds four and Brewer and Mayhew hit home runs, Post 100 knocked off perennial power Boyertown, Pa., 7-5.

Boyertown was the defending regional champion and had finished as 1980 American Legion World Series runner-up to a Honolulu, Hawaii team featuring future major leaguer Sid Fernandez.

Cherryville then dropped two straight games to eventual Mid-Atlantic regional finalists Brooklawn, N.J., and Richmond, Va. Brooklawn banged out 19 hits in a 12-6 win over Post 100, then Bob Dement fired a 6-hitter and scored on a seventh-inning squeeze bunt for the lone run in a 1-0 Richmond victory.

Richmond would win the regional over Brooklawn 9-8 in 11 innings before finishing as 1981 ALWS runner-up in Sumter, S.C., to a West Tampa, Fla., team featuring future major leaguer Dave Magadan.

Post 100 finished with a 37-6 overall record and several standout statistical performers.

Brewer (12-1 record), Warlick (9-2), Alexander (8-0), Lauer (2-0) and Fortenberry (2-1) were the top pitchers. And Long (.477 average, eight home runs, 60 RBIs), Reynolds (.370), Fortenberry (.337, eight home runs), Brewer (.312), Buff (.310), Alexander (.303) and Mayhew (.295, eight home runs) were the top hitters. Long ended the season with a 29-game hitting streak.

Cherryville’s Tim Mayhew (15) celebrates a home run during the 1982 playoffs.

The 1982 team lost in the regular season to Charlotte Post 262 twice and once apiece to Rutherford County and Shelby. But as it did the year before, they played their best in the Area IV playoffs as they swept Rutherford County 3-0 and Hickory 4-0 before avenging the two regular season losses to Post 262 with 4-1 series victory.

In the state playoffs, Cherryville knocked off Asheboro four games to two before losing in a seven-game series to a powerful Hamlet Post 49 team that featured future N.C. State standouts Bud Loving and Alex Wallace. (Hamlet won finish 31-17 overall and as Southeast Regional runner-up to Starkville, Miss., in Belton, S.C.)

Post 100 finished with a 34-12 overall record with more standout individuals efforts.

Alexander (11-3), Brewer (8-2), Stan Bailey (4-1), Lauer (4-4), Fortenberry (3-0 with 4 saves) and Reynolds (3-1) were the top pitchers. And Reynolds (.393), Alexander (.368), Lauer (.359), Fortenberry (.354, 12 home runs), Long (.313, 10 home runs), Buff (.297) and Mayhew (.273, 7 home runs) were the top hitters.

Fortenberry played at Wingate before being a fifth-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1984. He spent four years in the minor leagues, including one season with Gastonia in 1985.

Alexander played at Appalachian State – along with Long and Stroupe – and spent one year in the Chicago Cubs organization after they drafted him the 22nd round of the 1986 draft.

But Reynolds, who played at UNC-Wilmington, and Stroupe created coaching legacies.

Reynolds first coached Cherryville from 1988 to 1991 then returned to Post 100 in 1997 after five seasons coaching Gastonia Post 23. Also a six-time state championship-winning high school coach at East Rutherford (572-191 record), Reynolds is the winningest Legion head coach in N.C. history with an 811-378 record, five state titles and American Legion World Series runner-up finishes in 1998 and 2003.

Stroupe is nearby Gardner-Webb University’s all-time winningest coach in any sport with a 481-471-2 baseball head coaching record from 2003 to 2019. He also has an 837-704-2 overall record that includes coaching stops at West Henderson High School, Brevard, North Greenville and Lander.

In the years since Cherryville’s 1981 and 1982 teams, Post 100 under the direction of Reynolds has won five of its seven state titles, has had three of its five state runner-up finishes and two of its three ALWS appearances.

And Reynolds’ 663 Post 100 coaching victories accounts for nearly half of Cherryville’s 1,358 all-time wins.