For 14 years, Casey Gilroy has tried to get a Petaluma American Legion baseball team into the State Tournament, but it has never been the No. 1 goal. "I've always wanted to get to the state tournament, but the main objective has always been to get better from the start of the season to the end," he explained.
His 2013 team not only improved from start to finish enough to get to the State Tournament, played at the Veteran's Home at Yountville, but to win that tournament and go on to win the Western Regional Tournament and reach the American Legion World Series, where they finished second in the nation, playing in the championship game before being eliminated by three-time World Series champion Brooklawn, N.J.
Over the course of the season, including a four-tournament playoff run, the Leghorns compiled a 37-15 record, playing 52 games in 74 summer days. Gilroy said the busy schedule was good for not only preparing the players for what they would face as they continue their baseball career in college, but also because it forced them to think and play in the here and now.
"You don't have time to worry about what you did, you just have to keep playing," Gilroy explained.
Perseverance and patience were two lessons Gilroy continually drilled into the Leghorns. That philosophy extended to their approach to hitting. The manager asked the Leghorns to take pitches they might ordinarily have swung out, particularly in the early innings. "We wanted their starting pitcher to reach 90 pitches by the fifth inning," he explained. "It is huge if you can get the starting pitcher into a high pitch count."
Never was the strategy more apparent, nor the results better illustrated, than in Petaluma's 14-4 win over Brooklawn in the American Legion World Series. Petaluma, facing elimination against the unbeaten New Jersey team and trailing 4-0 after five innings, stuck to its strategy. By the end of that fifth inning, the Brooklawn starting pitcher had hit 90 pitches and the New Jersey team went to its bullpen. Petaluma scored five runs in the seventh inning, and, by the end of the game, had walked a World Series record 17 times.
Another Gilroy philosophy that the players bought into was never being satisfied. After one win, they wanted two, after two, they wanted three. After winning Area, they wanted to win State, after State they wanted to win Regionals, after Regionals they wanted to win the World Series.
"I was really proud of them in the World Series," the manager said. "After we had lost our first game (to Gonzalez, LA.), We could easily have said, &‘We got here, it was a great year,' but we kept playing hard. Each day we talked about not being satisfied. They wanted more."
The Leghorns defeated Branford, Ct., 6-3, They beat Brunsville, Minn., 3-1, They walked over Brooklawn, 14-4.
Suddenly, they were one of three teams left. On the next long day, they disposed of Waipahu, Hawaii, in a game that was closer than the 8-2 scored indicated. Petaluma led just 4-2 going into the eighth inning, behind the gutsy pitching of Jimmy Flatt. In a win-or-go-home situation, Gilroy called on staff ace Brandon Hagerla to wrap up the game. He pitched a shutout eighth inning, but after Petaluma scored four more runs, he gave way to Dom Deville who finished things out.