CHILLICOTHE — Over the course of the 2018 American Legion season, the Portsmouth Post 23 American Legion baseball program faced a grueling schedule that included the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic, the Ashland Post 76 July 4th Tournament, the Jim Jadwin Memorial Tournament, and, last but most certainly not least, a South Central Ohio League slate that was among the toughest that had been around in years.
However, Post 23 always came out better for the wear following each and every challenge, and, as a result, made the most out of its slate throughout the 2018 campaign at every stop.
The gritty unit, throughout the course of the day on Wednesday, continued to show why it has been regarded as a tough out throughout the balance of the year as Post 23 claimed a quality 13-9 victory over Chillicothe Post 62 to stay alive in the American Legion Region V Tournament on Wednesday morning, then fought valiantly against Hillsboro Post 129 before falling by a 7-5 tally en route to seeing its season come to a close on Wednesday afternoon in the double elimination tournament bracket, which was held at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
While the tournament run ended earlier than Matt Miller or his players would have liked it to — and understandably so — the unmistakable efforts in both contests had Miller pleased with the overall effort.
“We hit the ball very well in both games,” Miller said. “The difference in the two games was when we hit the ball in the first game, we hit them on a line. In the second game, we just had too many in the air. We squared the ball up and hit it right at them, but we just had too many balls in the air. Still, we had very good efforts up and down the lineup in both games. I believe that we struck out only once during the entirety of the second game, and we hit the ball hard on a consistent basis. Yes, the season’s over, and we certainly wanted to go farther, but the boys played hard. That’s all I can ask out of them.”
Game 1 – Portsmouth Post 23 13, Chillicothe Post 62 9
In the opening bout, Post 23 wasted no time jumping all over Chillicothe Post 62 with its effort at the dish in the top half of the first frame. A walk by leadoff hitter Brayden Davis, along with a one-out single from Cole Dyer and a passed ball, was followed by a two-out hit by pitch, which put Ethan Lauder on and loaded the bases for Portsmouth.
And in a flash, Post 23 produced in a heavy manner. A two-out, two-RBI double by Jesse Jones scored Davis and Dyer, and Reid Shultz immediately followed Jones with a two-out RBI single to center field to score Lauder and extend the Post 23 lead to a 3-0 margin. Seth Nichols then followed with his own blast – a two-RBI double to the right center field gap – as Shultz and Jones each scored.
By the time the damage had been done, Portsmouth had scored all five of its first inning runs with two men gone, and had taken a 5-0 lead after a half inning as a result.
“I have no fear, no matter who I put in there, whether or not we’re going to hit the baseball,” Miller said. “Throughout the year and throughout the first game, different people have stepped up at different times.”
In a matter of an inning, however, that lead evaporated.
After both teams went quietly over the next two half-frames, Chillicothe Post 62 responded with a blistering bottom half of the second. A leadoff single by Josh Morgan was followed by a walk from John Salyer, and the following batter, Aaron Gillium, launched a single to right field that not only scored Morgan standing up, but allowed Salyer and Gillium to score on the same play after the ball was misplayed on the hop in the outfield.
That damage would’ve been enough for a strong inning under any circumstance — but Post 62 didn’t stop there.
Another single back up the middle of the diamond by Tanner Popp was followed by a throwing error, and two additional wild pitches scored Popp while Carson Stauffer moved over to third base. JD Blevins’ one-out single two batters later then scored Stauffer and tied the score, and with two gone, Morgan followed Blevins’ single to right with his own base knock to the right side, which scored Blevins and Macky McDonald to give Post 62 a 7-5 advantage. Gillium’s second RBI base knock of the inning – which capped off a frame where 13 batters came to the plate – allowed Post 62 to take an 8-5 advantage after two innings of action.
Seemingly unfazed by what had taken place over the first pair of innings, Isaiah Greene took the place of Jake Ashkettle on the hill from the third inning on forward and proceeded to spin up a gem in relief by striking out five batters, allowing just one earned run, and, on top of that, turning an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play that averted disaster in the bottom of the fifth frame as Chillicothe Post 62 attempted to add more runs onto its strong offensive total.
“Isaiah came in and threw very, very well,” Miller said. “We had some errors behind Jake today, and (Post 62) got to him a little bit. I thought that it was a good time to go ahead and make the switch. They had come back and taken the lead.”
As the Greenup County (Ky.) product shined on the hill through the remaining five innings of work, Post 23 got rolling offensively once again with another crooked frame in the fifth inning. A leadoff walk by Jones set up a double to right center field by Shultz en route to putting runners on second and third base with nobody out, and Nichols, along with Jared Morrow, followed in a big way by collecting singles to center field and left field to drive in both Jones and Shultz and bring Post 23 within a run.
With Post 23 needing an additional spark after Davis and Greene were retired following the cycle back to the top of the order, Cole Dyer delivered in a big way. His two-out single to center field, which scored both Nichols and Morrow after a balk, allowed Portsmouth to storm back and take a 9-8 advantage, and before the top of the fifth inning concluded, Dyer, himself, had scored on an infield error, which allowed Portsmouth to take a 10-8 advantage after five innings of action.
“It’s always fun to see the guys keep fighting and keep talking,” Miller said. “The big thing is that they were having fun. They’re yelling at each other and everything else, but it was fun yelling. We just stayed in the game mentally and kept chipping away at it. What we talked about was, ‘Hey, we’ve got plenty of innings. Just chip away, battle, and keep going at it.'”
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Post 62 attempted to rally as a Jeremy Brooks RBI double allowed Chillicothe to close within one, 10-9, after six frames, but in the top of the seventh inning, back-to-back walks by Dyer and Speas were followed by a two-run double by Lauder, who launched a ball to deep right field to score both runners. Morrow added on his second and final RBI base knock in as many trips to the plate to round out the scoring.
Game 2 – Hillsboro Post 129 7, Portsmouth Post 23 5
The win over Chillicothe Post 62 propelled Post 23 to a 2:30 p.m. matchup with Hillsboro Post 129, where Portsmouth, again, started fast en route to showing little ill effects from playing in back-to-back affairs. An error and a one-out single by Cole Dyer allowed Ethan Lauder to follow with a critical two-out base knock to left field that scored Brayden Davis and put Post 23 up by a 1-0 tally after a half-inning of action.
However, as with Post 62, Hillsboro Post 129 answered quickly. With two men gone in the bottom of the first frame, Post 129 struck with two-out magic of its own as a single by Caleb West and an error was followed by a two-out, two-RBI base knock to left by Mason Stanley, which put Hillsboro ahead by a 2-1 tally after an inning of action.
While a bases-loaded, no-out threat was followed by a 5-3 unassisted double play and a flyout in the top of the second frame, Post 23 followed in the top of the third as a leadoff single by Dyer, along with a single from Lauder and an RBI double by Jesse Jones in the top half of the third frame, allowed Portsmouth to tie the score at a 2-2 tally after three innings of action. Jones then added to his strong performance at the plate by battling through a tough Hillsboro lineup en route to collecting a complete game performance on the mound.
“Jesse really battled,” Miller said. “He had a couple of errors behind him with a couple of balls that were lost in the sun, which was difficult to field in, and that hurt him, but he kept pounding away and threw the ball very well.”
Still, Hillsboro’s effective offensive output proved to be too much. After singles by Matthew Mitchell and Caleb West led off the bottom half of the third stanza, an error allowed Mitchell to come on in while West advanced to third base on the same play. A sacrifice fly RBI by Stanley pushed the Hillsboro lead to a 4-2 lead to end the bottom of the third, and in the bottom of the fourth, two infield errors, along with RBI singles by West and Zach Mitchell, allowed Post 129 to extend the point to a 7-2 count after four innings of work.
Even with a five-run deficit heading into the final three frames of play, Post 23 didn’t give in.
In fact, Portsmouth responded almost immediately as a double by Lauder to left center was followed by an RBI triple by Jones to right center, which scored the former.
From there, it only took a Jake Ashkettle sacrifice fly to bring Post 23 back within striking distance as Portsmouth trailed by a slight 7-4 margin after five innings of action, but other than an error with one out in the seventh inning that brought Post 23 within a 7-5 count, Portsmouth got no closer in the contest.
With the split, Post 23 finished the season with an overall mark of 13-16. Records, however, don’t tell the entire story, especially in the case of a Portsmouth unit that split with every American Legion Region V opponent – including the No. 1-seed, Waverly Post 142 – and finished as the Gene Bennett Baseball Classic Tournament Runner-Ups over the course of the 2018 American Legion season.
And those accomplishments are certainly ones to be proud of, especially considering how far Portsmouth has come since 2014 and 2015 — when Post 23 didn’t field a program at all.
“You always want your record to be better, and we’ve went through our lulls where we had four or five games where we struggled, but the kids kept fighting,” Miller said. “I’m proud of them. I’m proud of them for coming out and playing, and giving me everything that they had. I chuckled a little bit because I’ve only had to raise my voice twice this year. I love the kids. I just told them that if they needed anything from me or if there’s anything that I can do to help them, to let me know. They’re all great kids who work hard.”