CHILLICOTHE — Now this was worth the early Wednesday wakeup call, and even 9 a.m. first pitch, if you’re Portsmouth Post 23.
And, to be honest, nobody inside sunsplashed VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe could have possibly — reasonably — predicted this.
While most objective observers, and even the two head coaches, believed Wednesday’s winners’ bracket final between second-seeded Portsmouth and top-seeded Waverly was primed for a low-scoring pitcher’s duel —that indeed was far from the case.
Instead, Portsmouth’s bright and early offensive onslaught against Shocker starting pitcher and Valley product Carter Nickel kick-started another lopsided Region V American Legion Baseball Seniors Tournament triumph for Post 23.
Portsmouth poured out 16 runs on 16 hits to punch its Region V Tournament title tilt ticket, and sent a dozen batters to the first-inning plate for a second consecutive day —all part of a 16-3 throttling, and quite a shellshock to the Shockers.
Actually, it was quite a stunner to all inside VA Memorial Stadium, including Post 23 head coach Josh McGraw.
That’s because Nickel is a top-notch pitcher —as the Valley senior-to-be was a Division IV all-Ohio first-team hurler this past season, per the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association.
But, Wednesday was NOT Nickel’s morning.
A day after erupting for 13 runs on 13 hits, including eight runs on five hits and two Chillicothe errors in the opening inning on Tuesday, now 17-6 Portsmouth put up five earned against Nickel —all on four extra-base hits.
Post 23 had 12 at-bats in the first for a second straight game, as five runs on five hits and a pair of Waverly errors extended the half-inning to 22 total minutes.
The entire inning itself spanned a half-hour —for context.
“The score is surprising,” admitted McGraw. “They (Shockers) are a great ballclub and they threw a really good pitcher at us, and we just got on him in the first inning. Nickel is legit. He just left some balls up in the zone and we made them pay. You’re coming into this game expecting a 3-2 or 4-3 ballgame or some score like that. We just found a groove, which is abnormal against a team like that, and rode with it. The kids did great, kept hitting the ball hard. A lot of those 16 basehits were extra-base hits. Not only that, we had some sacrifice flies and ground balls with guys on third. Everybody one thru nine in the lineup, including the subs we put in, doing their jobs. “
It all started as leadoff man Holden Blankenship blistered a missile liner — right off Shockers’ second baseman Jase Hurd’s glove.
But the rocket of a shot had so much exit velocity on it that it steamrolled all the way to the wall, as the speedy Blankenship mad-dashed his way around the bases for a highly-rare inside-the-park home run.
That, of course, set the tone.
Nickel hit Brock Kitchen on the next at-bat, before back-to-back doubles by Cooper McKenzie and Caeleb McGraw —combined with a throwing error on McGraw’s two-bagger —made it 3-0 only four batters in.
McGraw then scored on an error off Isaiah Kelly’s bat, designated hitter Lane Hutchinson hit into a 3-6 fielder’s choice to reach, and Jakob Tipton doubled to left center to score Hutchinson for the sudden 5-0 advantage.
Only seven batters in, Roger Woodruff replaced Nickel, as Woodruff lasted only seven batters himself — allowing a Landon Hutchinson single and a Jacob Sloan walk in the first — before getting two outs with the bases loaded.
McKenzie and McGraw paced the winners with three hits apiece, followed by two from Landon Hutchinson, Kelly and Blankenship — including a second-stanza triple by Kelly and a seventh-inning three-bagger by Blankenship.
In the second, Post 23 added two runs on three consecutive hits, including Kelly’s aforementioned triple.
Woodruff was relieved for Peyton Harris at that point, but Lane Hutchinson singled in Kelly to make it 7-0.
Three-quarters of Portsmouth’s 16 hits came courtesy of its top two-thirds in the order.
“Holden (Blankenship) is a legit baseball player, one of the better ones around. He leads us, and as he goes we go. Our two, three, four, five, six hitters behind him, they crushed the baseball. It accumulated off that first inning,” said Coach McGraw. “It was fun to watch.”
Only if, though, you’re not part of the Shockers’ contingent —for it was Waverly’s worst run-differential loss of the entire summer.
“They barreled a lot of baseballs. First ball of the game goes right off Jase Hurd’s glove and turns into a home run,” said Post 142 coach Jonathan Teeters. “Maybe if we catch that ball, it’s a different game. But Portsmouth’s lineup one thru nine, they can swing it and hit it. They just jumped on us early. Credit goes to them.”
Harris pitched the remainder of the game for the Shockers —going the final five and two-thirds frames and facing 30 total batters.
After Lane Hutchinson’s second-inning single, the only baserunners he allowed until Portsmouth’s late blitzkrieg was a third-inning Sloan leadoff walk — and a fifth-inning Landon Hutchinson one-out safety.
In between, in the third, the Shockers scored all three of their runs on four hits —but Portsmouth amounted the final nine runs over the final two frames.
In the sixth, Post 23 combined four singles, a walk to Kelly, two errors, and an Aodhan Queen sacrifice fly for its four runs.
Kitchen had a leadoff single, and Hunter Thomas tallied an RBI-single to make it 10-3.
In the seventh, Portsmouth added on five runs and three hits and the final Shocker error —combining walks to Kelly and Caeleb McGraw, and back-to-back sac flies from Queen and Thomas, as Thomas tacked on the 16th and final marker with his.
By then, the outcome wasn’t in doubt — only the final score.
And, whether or not Portsmouth pitcher Bryson Brown could finish off a complete-game gem.
He came oh so close, reaching by rule his pitch count limit in the last —following his final of eight hits allowed, his seventh and final strikeout, and his one and only walk (to Hurd).
Trenton Williams saw two Shockers, and induced back-to-back game-ending flyouts.
But what Brown did was bear down, retiring the Shockers 1-2-3 in the opening two innings —and facing the minimum three in the fifth, thanks to Blankenship assisting on back-to-back groundball outs, including an inning-ending 6-3 double play.
In the fourth, with Waverly trailing 7-3, the Shockers singled with one and two outs —only to see Brown escape the jam with a strikeout.
In the sixth, Portsmouth made its only error and the leadoff man made it on —but Brown got the final three outs to keep it 11-3.
“It was good to see Bryson back out there. He had a lot of rest coming in and hadn’t pitched in a while,” said Coach McGraw. “He had to come out because he reached his pitch-count limit, but he was dominant again today except for one inning.”
That inning was the third, which Waverly’s Ben Nichols punctuated with a two-run triple.
But Brown left Nichols at third, and benefited from an infield fly for the second out, which Teeters argued over —especially since the popup was dropped in the outfield.
“We got something going there, and that infield fly ruling was very questionable, as that’s the best way I can word it. It was an infield fly call in right field. I’ve never seen it or even heard of it being called that far out,” said the coach. “But baseball is about breaks, and that was the break that we lost but we couldn’t afford to lose.”
Speaking of lost, the loss dropped the now 15-13 Shockers into the losers’ bracket —where Wednesday afternoon they played sixth-seeded Yeager-Benson in the losers’ bracket final.
The winner was to play Portsmouth on Thursday in the championship game, which is set for a 10 a.m. first pitch at Chillicothe High School’s field.
A second championship bout, if needed, will immediately follow around 1 p.m.
But Post 23 has to lose twice — whether Waverly or Yeager-Benson was the opponent.
All a red-hot Portsmouth club has to do is win once, and it will win the Region V championship — coupled with an automatic berth in next week’s Ohio American Legion Baseball state tournament in Lancaster.
McGraw hopes Thursday’s conclusion to the region tournament goes just as well as the first two days have —with wins.
“It has gone well, and whoever we play has to beat us twice. We’ll be ready to go, the kids will be ready, and it’s going to be a great team no matter who we play,” he said. “This tournament couldn’t have gone better for us so far, we’ve only used two pitchers (Brown and Vinnie Lonardo), we’re hitting the ball well, we’re hot at the right time and we’re rolling right now. We’ll see what we’ve got tomorrow (Thursday) and hopefully win one more.”
* * *
Portsmouth 520 004 5 —16 16 1
Waverly 003 000 0 — 3 8 5
Portsmouth: Bryson Brown 6 1/3IP, 3R, 3ER, 8H, 0HB, 1BB, 7K, 28BF; Trenton Williams 2/3IP, 0R, 0ER, 0H, 0HB, 0BB, 0K, 2BF
Chillicothe: Carter Nickel 1/3IP, 5R, 5ER, 4H, 1HB, 0BB, 0K, 7BF; Roger Woodruff 1IP, 2R, 2ER, 3H, 0HB, 1BB, 1K, 7BF; Peyton Harris 5 2/3 IP, 9R, 6ER, 9H, 0HB, 4BB, 1K, 30BF
W — Bryson Brown; L — Carter Nickel