CHESTERFIELD – As soon as Colby Cheatham got back home from Mary Baldwin University, he and his family built their batting cage in the backyard. He’s been in that cage every week, getting in swings as part of his efforts to get better.
But he hadn’t been throwing that much. The last time he threw a bullpen was around two weeks ago.
It was hard to tell.
Playing his first game back with Post 201, as well as his first baseball game since March, when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the rest of the collegiate season, Cheatham racked up seven strikeouts in two innings.
“It feels great to be back out here,” said Cheatham, a Class of 2019 graduate from Powhatan High School. “These are the good old days when you look back on them. . . been waiting for this moment out here just to get back into it.”
He was not alone. Tuesday's starting pitcher for Post 201, PHS Class of 2018 graduate Tommy Preston, focused on getting healthier and stronger throughout the pandemic.
“And once I found out baseball was going to be back in the 804, I was really happy,” Preston said with a smile. “Coming back from not throwing since February for me, it felt really good to go out there and perform.”
Preston struck out six batters in three innings of work, and he and Cheatham led the team in throwing strikes – a point of emphasis from head coach Eric Mead to his Post 201 players last week.
And while Post 201 came up short in Tuesday night’s game at L.C. Bird High School – host team Post 137 won 7-6 with a three-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning – Mead said the pitching is coming around, and he added that they hit the ball well.
For the third straight game, Post 201 homered as University of North Carolina rising freshman and two-way commit Brandon Eike delivered his second blast of the summer – a solo shot over the left-field fence – in the top of the fourth inning. His teammate Alex Balisteri connected on two early doubles, including one rocket of a second-inning hit that touched down inside the line deep in right field and cleared the bases to give his team a 4-1 lead.
Post 201 also had three straight good looks off of the bat in the top of the seventh. Balisteri drilled a ball that was snatched up by Connor Kannon. Jalen Hines took away a fiery hit from Eike on a jumping catch deep in right field. And Stone Talley smashed the ball to the wall, but center fielder Grayson Kcraget made the heads-up catch to secure the win for Post 137.
“If those three hits have eyes – couple inches here or there – then we’re back in that game,” Mead said. “I’m very happy with the team. I thought they did well.”
Post 201’s opponent turned to several players on the bench, including Kcraget, Hines, Kannon, Kendall Cross and closing pitcher Jacob Mort, in the back-half of the game. They all played a role in pushing Post 137 past the visitors after the home team initially trailed 6-2 going into the bottom of the third inning.
Hines drilled a fiery base hit on past a strong diving attempt from Caleb Kersey to plate Kannon in the fourth, Cross raced his way out of a pickle and across home plate in the fifth and Kcraget landed an RBI triple just inside the line deep in right field before he scored the tying run on a wild pitch in the sixth. Bobby Ayscue then brought home Isaiah Lucero on a sacrifice fly to center field to send Post 137 into a one-run lead.
Meanwhile, Mort was able to assemble three hitless innings and secure the win on the mound. But Post 201 didn’t make it easy for the home team in the final frame.
“I’m not concerned about it because I feel like we’re strong all the way through our lineup,” Mead said. “We’re a good-hitting baseball team. I know a lot of my guys are looking for those better arms and want those better arms on the mound, and they feel like they can hit better with those better arms.
“I think we covered the pitching very well. The bats don’t concern me,” Mead said. “The key’s going to come down to who walked the most batters and tonight we walked a few more batters than we probably should have, but I’m very happy with the team. We’re going to be fine. We’re playing good baseball. I’m enjoying it.”
For both Preston and Cheatham, their performances on the mound were confidence boosters. Preston noted he’s not normally used to striking out a lot of people, and he pointed to being more accustomed to relying on the defense.
“The defense did their job when I was out there,” Preston said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how it went.”
“I’m ready to go back out there,” Cheatham added. “I’d like to see some hits come off the bat, but it definitely feels good about the pitching.”
Cheatham retired all batters on strikeouts in his time on the mound. He reached seven in two innings due to a runner advancing to first base on an unsecured third strike that got away from the battery in the fifth.
Joining Post 201 teammates Preston and Cheatham in playing baseball for the first time since March was James Nelson, who graduated from Trinity Episcopal this June and will attend and play for Longwood University. Nelson on Tuesday batted 1 for 1 with three walks.
“It’s awesome to get to finally get on the field, because you work so hard all winter and do all sorts of training and then you got to your spring and it got shut down,” Nelson said. So for him, every week since then has been about training, which included power lifting, getting swings in and seeing velocity.
“You’re ready to get out here and show what you can do,” Nelson said. “It’s just nice to get back on the field, get to play, get to show what I’ve been working on.”
Nelson spoke to the importance of the team keeping up the energy throughout all seven innings.
“The dugout energy is key – a lot of times that goes underrated and under-looked – and I felt like their team kept it going for a little bit longer in the dugout definitely . . . it transitioned into a couple big hits in the end for them,” Nelson said. “I think that’s something we can honestly focus on and it would probably help us out.”
For Tuesday’s game, Post 201 made some adjustments to the lineup – Christian Chambers moved to lead-off, Balisteri switched to second in the order and Nelson batted cleanup. Eike continued to bat third and Stone Talley, whom Mead said has been hitting the ball phenomenally, batted fifth.
“One thing about it is they’ve got to pitch to all of them,” Mead said, “because there’s good hitters surrounding all of them.”
A few more adjustments could be coming for the topside of the order going into Thursday’s home game versus Post 284 at Powhatan High School at 7 p.m.
“Outside of that,” Mead said, “that’s a powerful one-through-five in the order.”
BOX 123 456 7 R H E
201 140 100 0 6 8 3
137 101 113 x 7 7 0
Highlights: (137) Preston Robbins 2-4, 2B, 3 RBI, Isaiah Lucero 1-1, 3 runs, Jacob Mort 3 IP: 0H, 0R, 3K, 2BB, (201) Alex Balisteri 2-4, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 2 runs, Brandon Eike 1-2, HR, RBI, run, 2 BB, Tommy Preston 3 IP: 3H, 2R, ER, 6K, 2BB, Colby Cheatham 2 IP: 3H, 2R, 0ER, 7K, 0BB