WAVERLY — When the Portsmouth Post 23 and Waverly Post 142 American Legion baseball programs get together for a South Central Ohio League matchup, the contests usually end up being tightly contested in nature.
On Tuesday evening, that fact was true to form once again as the two units, behind a pair of solid six-inning pitching performances from Post 23’s Bradley Gee and Post 142’s Clayton Howell, battled it out for seven full frames in a SCOL affair.
However, it was Waverly who would prevail in the latest version of the matchup between the pair, as Post 142 used a nine-strikeout performance by Howell on the hill and two key RBI from Scioto County products Eric Cook and Tanner Cunningham in the first inning to lift the Shockers to a 6-2 victory over Post 23 in a well-played baseball contest on the campus of Waverly High School.
For Post 142 head coach Jonathan Teeters, the performance of Post 142’s ace was simply splendid on this day.
“Clayton was his normal self tonight,” Teeters said. “I think he’s really putting himself in a position as one of the best, if not the best, pitcher in the league. He has good stuff and it was on display again tonight.”
While the loss was disappointing on the other end of the spectrum, Matt Miller was pleased with the fight that Post 23 showed on Tuesday.
“Clayton (Howell) threw the ball well against us,” Miller said. “When we were able to square the ball up, we hit it in the air, and those usually get caught at this level. We had a few errors, and that was really the difference in the game. It allowed (Post 142) to jump out to that 5-1 lead, and put us behind the eight-ball there, but the kids kept swinging and kept playing hard. It’s just hard to dig out of a hole once it’s been dug.”
In the first inning of play, Post 23 looked to be in a good position to strike, as an error on a hard-hit ball by Connor Mullins and a single to right field by Drew Lowe allowed Portsmouth to house runners at the corners with just one gone. However, as he would do throughout most of the game, Howell would meander his way out of trouble as a strikeout and a groundout allowed the Waverly standout to get out of trouble with no damage done to the scoreboard.
Then, in the bottom of the first inning, Howell’s teammates rewarded their ace’s persistence by producing on the offensive end.
After a leadoff double into the left center field gap by Waverly’s Logan Kottenbrook, Cook responded with a one-out shot to left center two batters later, which just dropped in front of a diving Ethan Lauder — Cook’s high school teammate — as Cook brought Kottenbrook in to score from third base. Then, after another single to left by Howell, a hard shot to right field by Cunningham scored the junior-to-be from Valley as Post 142 took an early 2-0 lead after an inning of play.
In the second and third innings of play, Post 23 looked prime to plate additional runs on the scoreboard as a double by Gee, a single by Athan Temponeras, and a passed ball in the second inning, along with a walk by Mullins and another single to right field by Lowe in the third inning, allowed Portsmouth to score a run apiece in both frames.
However, after putting two runners on with nobody out in each of those frames, Post 23 would go down in order as the two runs proved to be all that Portsmouth would be able to obtain over the course of the evening despite collecting seven hits.
“With the exception of one game this season (Post 23’s second contest in its season-opening doubleheader with Hillsboro), we might get two or three guys that notch a couple of hits, but it seems like we can’t get four, five, six hits strung together at the same time.”
That was proven in the bottom of the second inning, when, after a pair of walks, Braden Simms came up large with his RBI single back up the middle of the diamond. Simms’ efforts were followed by an infield error, and before long, Post 142 had established control with a 5-1 advantage after two full innings of work and — even after Post 23’s lone run in the third frame — a 5-2 lead after three innings of play.
“It was nice to jump out and get an early lead,” Teeters said. “Anytime you’re able to do that with Clayton on the hill, I like our chances of achieving what we came to do.”
Over the final four innings of play, Gee, who threw a complete game five-hitter on the evening, dueled it out with Howell, who only walked a single batter and struck out nine for a nine-to-one strikeout to walk ratio.
However, the Shockers proved to be too strong.
After loading the bases on a walk, a single, and a hit-by-pitch, Marty Knittel came up to the plate in a pinch-hitting situation for Howell. Knittel subsquently hit a Gee pitch up the center of the diamond to the middle of the infield, and the ball — which was bobbled on the exchange — allowed Waverly to add its sixth and final run of the contest. Kottenbrook then came on in the seventh inning and, despite allowing a pair of hits, collected a 6-4 groundout, a flyout, and a strikeout to seal the deal for Post 142.
“If you ask Brad himself, he’ll tell you that it wasn’t his best outing,” Miller said of Gee’s pitching performance. “He was up in the zone a little bit today. It wasn’t his best outing, but he still battled for six complete innings and gave everything that he had. He was just off on his location a little bit today.”
With the victory, Waverly improved to 6-5 overall and a perfect 3-0 in the SCOL. They’ll look to set their sights on a tournament championship when Post 142 plays Chillicothe Post 757 in the Hillsboro Wood Bat Tournament.
“Going forward, we just want to continue to get better,” Teeters said. “We are younger than we’ve ever been in the eight years that I’ve done this, so its going to be a process. All of the guys are buying in and I’m already seeing some change in them. I’m excited to see what we will produce. We have a lot of hungry minds who want to get better.”
Post 23, who fell to 2-4 and 1-1 in the SCOL, still has plenty of promise in its arsenal. Portsmouth — who played without regular starters Tanner Kimbler and Tayte Carver on Tuesday — played Chillicothe Post 757 on Wednesday and will look to establish momentum in the same wood bat tournament on Friday.
“It should be a good one,” Miller said. “It’ll be good to be home, really. Besides playing out at Valley (this past Saturday), that’s really our first home game so far this year. We’ve been on the road a lot. Obviously, today was not the outcome that we wanted, but the good thing about baseball is that we get to play for the right to change that result (on Wednesday). We’ll come out and be ready to work.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7