Haywood County went 61 years without American Legion baseball.
Look at it now.
Post 47 has qualified for the July 24-28 state tournament in Salisbury as of Thursday night with a 23-5 record.
The collection of players from Haywood, Jackson and Yancey counties is riding an eight-game winning streak after sweeping a couple best-of-five series with Hickory and Mint Hill. In each case, the opposition was a higher-seeded team.
Post 47 has never been this far in the American Legion playoffs.
“It’s crazy, this is probably the most fun summer that I’ve ever had,” Haywood County outfielder/pitcher Mason Fox said.
“It’s just been an unreal experience. Sure, we all came into this thinking we could be good. But this is just unreal.”
Post 47 revived its American Legion program in 2013.
Current players Nathan Summey, Holt Underwood, Cal Raleigh and Thomas Tatham were part of that first team to take the field for Haywood County since 1952.
Unless it’s a doubleheader, American Legion games last nine innings. Post 47 trailed after the seventh in all three games of the Hickory series.
Fox’s two-run single into right field, followed by an RBI from Bryce Burgess, broke a 6-6 tie in the 10th inning of Thursday’s night’s 9-6 win in Newton.
Fox, a Pisgah graduate who has signed with Gardner-Webb, also hit a solo home run in the eighth inning. Raleigh went deep twice, depositing a couple homers over the scoreboard in right field at the Legion Fairgrounds.
The Smoky Mountain alum recently committed to Florida State.
Fox finished with four hits. Gray McCurry had three, while Raleigh and Summey were each responsible for two.
“This group has such a resiliency to them. They battle,” Haywood County coach Mitchell Whitner said.
“We feel like we’re one of the better hitting teams, not just in our area, but in the state. At no point do we ever feel like we’re out of a game. Other people might, but we don’t.”
Next up for Haywood County is the Area IV championship against Caldwell County (27-7).
The two sides have agreed to a best-of-three series.
It begins Sunday at M.S Deal Stadium in Granite Falls. Game 2 is Monday at Haywood County (Lake Junaluska Elementary School) and a potential Game 3 would be hosted Monday by Caldwell. All game times are 7 p.m.
Regardless of who wins or loses, both teams will participate in the July 24-28 American Legion state tournament in Salisbury, so the series is merely to determine seeding.