CHILLICOTHE — In the game of baseball, a difference between a win or a loss can simply come down to whether or not a team is able to find the gaps out in the field of play.
Unfortunately, Post 23 wasn’t able to find enough open creases Monday afternoon with the bats as Portsmouth fell to the Chillicothe Post 62 Riverbats by an 8-2 tally in the opening round of the American Legion Region V Tournament at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
Even though Matt Miller’s ballclub fell to the consolation bracket with the defeat, the East coaching hand was impressed with his team’s approach and concentration at the dish.
“We had 14 hits, and when you add in the fact that we hit several additional balls hard that were right at guys, I can’t complain,” Miller said. “We hit the ball. The only difference in the game was the fact that (Post 62) got runners in, and we didn’t. We couldn’t come up with the key hit to open the floodgates for ourselves. There were times where we hit the ball hard with two outs, but it just happened to be right at them.”
Initially, it looked as if Post 23 would have no trouble producing runs as Portsmouth struck first behind the strong efforts from the middle of the order.
After a Tanner Kimbler groundout to begin the contest, Wheelersburg’s Connor Mullins and Athan Temponeras each followed with back-to-back one-out hits — the former a one-out double to right center field and the latter a one-out single to left field — to put runners on third and first with one gone in the opening frame of action. Kimbler’s high school teammate, Tayte Carver, then followed with the game’s opening salvo by launching a base knock to left to score Mullins with two away in the same frame.
However, even though Carver and Temponeras each moved into scoring position by stealing second and third simultaneously, Post 23 wasn’t able to collect the one hit necessary to gather some breathing room.
And unfortunately for Portsmouth, Post 62, like Post 23, brought its bats out to begin the contest.
After a single by Matthew McDonald, a stolen base by the Riverbats’ leadoff hitter, along with a wild pitch, allowed the right fielder to come home on an infield misplay by Post 23. Then, after a steal by Jeremy Brooks — who reached base on the aforementioned error — and a wild pitch, a single to right field by Gage Jones allowed Post 62 to take a 2-1 edge over Portsmouth after an inning of play.
In the second frame, Post 23 looked to have a tasty recipe cooking early on in the top half of the frame thanks to the bottom half of the order. A leadoff walk by Drew Lowe and back-to-back singles by Seth Nichols and Jared Morrow allowed Portsmouth to load the bases with just one down.
But in what proved to be a recurring theme throughout Monday afternoon’s affair, Post 23 just couldn’t seem to catch a break, as a 3-2 forceout on a Kimbler grounder, along with a Mullins flyout to center, allowed Post 62 to get out of the bases-loaded jam without any runs as the recipe was rendered moot.
With Post 62 still holding control of the contest after the top half of the second, Chillicothe was able to turn the momentum gained from the clever work in the bases loaded situation into several excellent at-bats in the bottom half of the second inning to establish staying power.
After a leadoff single by Russell Throckmorton, a balk call, a wild pitch, and a walk by McDonald allowed Gunnar Free to drive Throckmorton in with his one-out single to right field. Then, following a passed ball that advanced both runners into scoring position, Jones came back up to the dish to collect another RBI base knock — this time, a two-RBI shot to left field with two done — to drive in McDonald and Free as Chillicothe increased its advantage to a 5-1 count after two complete frames.
“We just weren’t able to come through in clutch situations,” Miller said. “We had plenty of opportunities. In the second inning, we had the bases loaded with one out. However, we grounded out into a force play at home, and then Connor hit a ball hard but it just happened to be right at the center fielder. Eventually, those shots are going to fall. The main thing is that we hit the ball well, and I hope that we come out tomorrow and do the same thing (on Tuesday). It just didn’t go our way today.”
In the third inning, Portsmouth, for the second consecutive frame, put its leadoff batter on base as Temponeras’ leadoff walk was followed by Ethan Lauder’s single to left field.
However, despite Bradley Gee’s rope of a shot to right field that drove in Lauder, a trio of forceouts kept Post 23 from challenging the deficit as Portsmouth was only also to trim the deficit slightly to a 5-2 margin. Post 62 negated that damage within the next half-inning as a walk by Josh McCorkle, a bunt single by Throckmorton, and a sacrifice bunt by Keyan Cottrell allowed McDonald and Free to drive in a run apiece with a RBI single to left field and a bunt single down the first base line, respectively, as Chillicothe took a 7-2 advantage.
Following the frame, Lauder, who went 3-for-4 with a run scored on the day, took over for Gee on the hill and proceeded to throw five innings of standout baseball as the Minford product retired a dozen straight Post 62 batters at one point. Lauder ultimately allowed just a single run on three hits while striking out four batters and walking none in his time on the hill.
“Ethan came in and did a heck of a job,” Miller said. “He gave us five strong innings on the mound and really shut the door on Post 62.”
Unfortunately for Portsmouth, the same issues that haunted Post 23 during the opening trio of innings continued to plaque them as the innings wound down.
In the fifth, seventh, and eighth innings, Post 23 put two runners aboard in each frame, and put five out of its seven baserunners in scoring position between the three frames. None of those seven, however, crossed the plate as Portsmouth stranded 10 runners and had three additional players run into forceouts on the evening, which allowed Post 62, who added another run off of a Jeremy Brooks base hit, to take home an 8-2 victory.
With the loss, Post 23 fell into consolation bracket play on Tuesday, where Portsmouth played Chillicothe Post 757 in a 10 a.m. matchup at VA Memorial Stadium. Post 757 came back from a 6-0 deficit to defeat Hillsboro Post 129, 7-6, before falling to Circleville Post 134, 9-4, to fall into consolation bracket play.
“They’re two really good ballclubs,” Miller said before the Post 134-Post 757 matchup took place to determine Portsmouth’s opponent in the 10 a.m. consolation bracket matchup. “We know that we have to be on top of our game. I told them, ‘Hey, let’s come out and hit the ball the same way, and we’ll take our chances.’”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7