CHILLICOTHE — The Colts may have had a fast and early pace on Tuesday, but like any good horse jockey or driver, Vinnie Lonardo quickly —and calmly —reeled Chillicothe in.
It didn’t take long, either, for Portsmouth Post 23 to crack the proverbial whip with the sound of its bats —and mix in some Chillicothe errors, and eight issued free passes.
That said, if the minimum number of victories is three this week for an Ohio Region V American Legion Baseball Seniors Tournament championship, then check off Post 23 for the first leg of that Triple Crown.
That’s because, trailing the Colts 3-0 after their initial at-bat, Portsmouth broke free for the final 13 runs —and as a result corralled Chillicothe 13-3 in six innings in a winners’ bracket bout inside sunsoaked VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
That’s correct —the fifth-seeded and upset-minded Colts, which were hammered 28-2 by Portsmouth merely a week ago at Chillicothe’s Hoffman Field for an SCOL regular-season tilt, charged out front for three earned runs on four singles and Post 23’s only error of the day.
The Portsmouth left-hander Lonardo also walked one of his early eight batters, but after David Magill’s two-out and two-run single for the Colts made it 3-0 —Lonardo dealt, and simply dominated, Chillicothe after that.
Meanwhile, Portsmouth provided Lonardo plenty of run support —for starters how about eight runs on five hits and two Chillicothe fielding errors, with a dozen batters seeing the plate in the first.
Throw in a pair of Austin Magill walks, a McGill wild pitch, and even Caeleb McGraw’s RBI-groundout which made it 3-2, and the Blue Jays were the ones off and racing —or rather flying to Wednesday’s winners’ bracket finals.
With Tuesday’s triumph, called following six innings with the 10-run mercy rule, Post 23 raised its record to 16-6 —and shook off any doldrums looming from an entire week of only two games, regular-season wins at Chillicothe (28-2) last Tuesday and at Waverly (5-0) last Thursday.
Speaking of Waverly, and Wednesday’s winners’ bracket final, second-seeded Portsmouth plays the top-seeded Shockers in that affair at 9 a.m. —right back at venerable, and what might be at another steambaked, VA Memorial Stadium.
The winner will advance to Thursday’s championship game —which is being played at Chillicothe High School’s Mount Logan Field.
The Shockers swept Post 23 in regular-season SCOL competition, thus earning the top seed of six for the Region V Tournament.
Thursday’s 5-0 shutout was a non-league duel, as the Shockers needed nine innings on Tuesday morning — nudging Hillsboro 3-2 in that winners’ bracket battle.
Hillsboro had upset on the brain — and so did Chillicothe — although its opening-inning success didn’t include Lonardo fielding a bunt and flipping to catcher Cooper McKenzie for a force out on a squeeze play, the first of Lonardo’s 10 strikeouts, or Isaiah Kelly catching a key fly ball in right field for the third out with two Colts on.
After that, for Chillicothe, as Newfound Glory once sang, it was all downhill from here.
Lonardo allowed only one walk with three hits over his final five frames, as he retired the Colts 1-2-3 in innings three and six —and faced four batters apiece in stanzas two and five.
He struck out two Colts in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth —as Braylon Leach landed two singles as part of Chillicothe’s final three hits, which included D.J. Crocker’s leadoff triple to right field for the fifth.
But Lonardo left him there, ending that threat with the second groundout of the game to shortstop Holden Blankenship.
Post 23 head coach Josh McGraw discussed Lonardo’s difference for the final five innings.
“Vinnie is one of our guys, but he hadn’t thrown in a while, so he was finding his feel on the mound. He struggled in the first inning, his fastball was up and didn’t have much of a curveball. But a lot of guys, a lot of teams, they will feel that pressure right there at that point and shut it down. A game you should win, but in the top of the first you are down 3-0. But we lit it up after that. Scored eight runs in the bottom of the first, two two-run doubles in that inning, and that triggered a little bit in Vinnie,” said McGraw. “From the top of the second through the sixth, he was dominant and I am very proud of him. We needed him to go the whole game. That was our goal, to save pitching for the rest of the tournament, he needed to have this whole game and he did a fabulous job. The top of the fifth, they get a leadoff triple, but he didn’t score. Vinnie wasn’t out there just throwing, but he was big-time pitching.”
Lonardo handled his business on the mound, while the remainder of the Post 23 unit took care of its at the dish.
Blankenship and Brock Kitchen started with singles to center off Austin Magill, then McKenzie doubled to left center, bringing Blankenship in.
Caeleb McGraw grounded out to cross Kitchen, then Kelly reached on an error —setting up designated hitter Lane Hutchinson hitting a grounder, which rolled all the way to the left-centerfield wall for a two-run lead-staking double.
Jakob Tipton reached on another fielding error, then following a fielder’s choice, Jacob Sloan and Blankenship both drew Magill walks —with Sloan’s loading the bases and Blankenship’s bringing in Tipton to make it 5-3.
Hunter Thomas scored on a wild pitch, then Kitchen doubled to left center similar to Hutchinson’s —as Sloan and Blankenship scored for the now 8-3 advantage.
With that, Magill —with only three earned runs allowed and seeing 11 batters —was replaced by Peter Brockman.
Portsmouth pounded out 13 hits, including two apiece by Kitchen, Blankenship and McGraw —as Blankenship led off the fifth with a double, but he and Kitchen who walked fell victims on the bases to the Colts turning a rare but incredible triple play.
However, that was Chillicothe’s high point proceeding the opening inning.
In the fourth, Tipton singled in Kelly who walked, as Thomas reached on an infield hit —with Tipton racing around and in from first as the result of a throwing error.
In the sixth, it was McGraw reaching on an infield hit against Brockman and Landon Hutchinson drawing a one-out walk — as pinch-hitters Aodhan Queen and Tyler Brammer both had back-to-back RBI-singles for a 12-3 lead.
Sloan, who singled in the third, was hit by a Leach pitch to load the bases —and two batters later, Kitchen’s at-bat resulted in an error, bringing Brammer across and ending it.
“Our offense was rolling, and our first six or seven hitters really led us today. We put it in play and we hit the ball hard. When our first five guys get on base, and it all starts with Holden Blankenship in that leadoff spot, we can be dangerous,” said Coach McGraw.
McGraw coaches the Jackson Ironmen in the high school season, as Blankenship represents the Red and White —as does Portsmouth pitcher for Wednesday with Bryson Brown.
Brown gets the ball against the Shockers, as Post 23 tries to punch its ticket to Thursday’s championship.
“Waverly is a very good ballclub. We know what they are and they know what we are,” said the coach. “Just go out and play and see what happens. I expect it to be a great pitching game, and we’re going to go after it pretty hard. A win tomorrow (Wednesday) will put us in the driver’s seat, but you have to play inning by inning, because you’re going to play good teams no matter what.”
* * *
Chillicothe 300 000 — 3 7 4
Portsmouth 800 203 —13 13 1
Chillicothe: Austin McGill 2/3IP, 8R, 3ER, 5H, 0HB, 2BB, 0K, 11BF; Peter Brockman 4 2/3IP, 4R, 3ER, 7H, 0HB, 5BB, 2K, 23BF; Braylon Leach 1/3IP, 1R, 0ER, 1H, 1HB, 0BB, 0K, 4BF
Portsmouth: Vinnie Lonardo 6IP, 3R, 3ER, 7H, 0HB, 2BB, 10K, 27BF
W — Vinnie Lonardo; L — Austin McGill