CHILLICOTHE — In baseball, wacky affairs are not hard to find in a game where one bounce — good or bad — can change the entire complexion of a game.
However, even Tuesday morning’s affair between Portsmouth Post 23 and Chillicothe Post 757 was so wacky that it would be hard to duplicate over again.
Six lead changes. 32 hits. An inside-the-park home run. And to top it all off, two of those lead changes occurred when the team coming from behind was down by at least three runs or more.
But again, despite obtaining more hits than their opponent (17 to 15) and holding a 13-11 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, Portsmouth Post 23 couldn’t keep Chillicothe Post 757 from making a charge as Post 23 fell to Post 757, 14-13 behind a three-run triple by Post 757’s Sam Walsh in the sixth, with Post 23’s season coming to an end in the defeat.
As with Monday afternoon’s performance, however, it was hard for Miller to be disappointed with the effort.
“We battled,” Miller said. “I can’t complain. We put together an 18-hit day and had over 30 hits in just two games. However, Post 62 battled too. Both teams left it all out there on the field. If somebody watches that game and says that both teams quit, that would be wrong. There’s no way that they can say that. Both teams battled. They just happened to get the last shot there.”
Just like its first affair on Monday against Chillicothe Post 62, Post 23 struck first as a Tanner Kimbler single to right field, a three-unassisted sacrifice bunt by Connor Mullins, and a single by Athan Temponeras to left field allowed Ethan Lauder to follow with a clutch two-out RBI single to left field as Post 23 took a 1-0 lead in the opening half-inning of play.
But in what proved to be a recurring theme all game long, Post 757 battled right back as Chillicothe took the lead early on. Despite an excellent throw by Cade Powell to nab Brian Smith as the latter attempted to steal second base, a walk by Trenton Harris, an error, and a base knock by Bowen Dratwa set the table for Walsh, who plated two runs with his double to left field to give Post 757 a 2-1 advantage.
Post 23, however, didn’t settle with the deficit for long. In fact, Portsmouth proceeded to bat around as four consecutive base knocks to left by Kimbler, Mullins, Temponeras, and Lauder — the latter pair being RBI base knocks that scored Kimbler and Mullins — allowed Portsmouth to take a 3-2 advantage.
But the boys in blue were far from finished. After a pair of flyouts, an error and a passed ball allowed Temponeras and Lauder to score. Following a walk to Powell, Jared Morrow hit a rocket of a shot that was misplayed in right field, which allowed Gee and Powell to storm on home. A third error, which occurred in the infield, allowed Morrow to score unimpeded as a seven-run third seemingly gave Portsmouth a commanding 8-2 lead.
Unfortunately for Post 23, that lead evaporated nearly as fast as it came about. In the bottom half of the same frame, Walsh and Brandon Barker each collected singles to left field, and two free passes allowed Caleb Fogelsong and Ramon Long to reach base, with Long plating a run in the process. Evan Long followed by notching an infield single to the left side to score Barker, and a 6-4 groundout RBI from Smith, along with another RBI single from Harris, allowed Post 757 to close the gap to 8-6 in a heartbreaking flash.
“We got the 8-2 lead there early on, and I felt that over the next half-inning, we kind of relaxed a little bit,” Miller said. “But the boys battled. Connor (Mullins) battled his tail off, Tanner (Kimbler) battled his tail off, Cade (Powell) caught in very warm conditions, and kids got hits up and down the order.”
After seemingly opening the gap back up slightly behind a hard-hit double from Drew Lowe and back-to-back singles from Powell and Morrow — the latter being of the RBI variety — to take a 9-6 advantage, Post 757 rallied with a massive five-run fifth to take the lead back. An leadoff inside-the-park home run by Evan Long cut the lead to 9-7 right away, and, after a pair of base knocks to right and left field by Smith and Harris, Sean Frazier added an RBI double to left to score Smith and cut the lead to one.
Then, following an intentional walk to Dratwa, Walsh seemingly hit into a grounder that looked like it would keep Portsmouth’s 9-8 lead intact. Unfortunately, another infield error allowed Post 757 to not only tie the score at nine-all, but take a 10-9 lead as Harris and Frazier came around. Fogelsong capped the inning off with an RBI double to left field, scoring Walsh, as Post 23 fell behind by an 11-9 margin.
But as if the rally had never occurred, Portsmouth came back in resilient fashion as Post 23, behind the efforts of its two-through-seven hole hitters, stormed back to plate four runs in the sixth inning.
After a dropped third strike allowed Mullins to reach at first base, Temponeras was able to move his high school teammate over to third with a single to right field. Ethan Lauder then one-upped Temponeras’ single to right with his double to the left center field gap to knot the score at 11-all. Carver then came up and, like Lauder before him, ripped a double into the left center field to score the latter and give Portsmouth the lead back, and, after a single back up the middle by Lowe, scored on Gee’s single to right field as Post 23 took a 13-11 advantage through five and a half innings of play.
Over the next pair of innings, Kimbler, who came on in relief of Mullins in the sixth frame, rolled through the Post 757 lineup during his first two innings of work by allowing just one hit and retiring six out of the eight batters that the Green standout faced.
And going into the bottom of the eighth inning, Kimbler — who retired Evan Long and Smith with ease — looked to be well on his way to doing the same as the contest wound down.
But in a blink of an eye, that all changed.
With two outs on the board, Harris got a rally going by launching a single to right field and stealing second base on the next pitch, and was followed by a Frazier walk and an infield single by Dratwa as Post 757 loaded the bases.
Still, with two outs, no one home yet, and a two-run cushion on the scoreboard, Kimbler needed just one pitch to extinguish the threat.
Instead, Walsh, who started the Post 757 scoring, decided that he would end it, as well. On a full count, the right fielder launched a triple down the left field line that rolled all the way past the patio area to clear the bases and give Chillicothe the lead for good. Post 23 went down in order in the ninth frame as Post 757 eliminated Portsmouth from Region V competition, 14-13.
While the season wasn’t exactly what Miller and the Post 23 Seniors anticipated, the entire group has a reason to be optimistic — especially considering that 10 of the roster’s 12 players return for 2018. In fact, as of this year’s roster, Billy Book will be the only senior on the Senior Legion unit for 2018 — a good recipe for future success.
“We’re two years into the revival of the program, and the future’s bright,” Miller said. “We are a young team. The future’s bright for us, as long as we stick to our message and keep working. The first five guys in our batting order are all 16 years old, and they were producing. The future’s definitely bright, we just have to learn to close the deal a little bit better next year. The season didn’t go as we had hoped, but we were in a lot of ball games, and the experiences that they obtained this year will be good for all of the guys going forward, not only for American Legion ball, but for their high school teams and everything else. It will help them learn how to close the deal.”
With the American Legion season at its conclusion, Miller will officially say goodbye to Gee and Lowe, who were not only four-year starters at their respective high schools, but were instrumental in the reincarnation of the Post 23 baseball program last summer after a two-year absence from play.
“I’m proud of Brad and Drew, and that pride not only comes from what they leave out on the field, but for who they are as people. I’m proud of the young men that they are. Both of them are great young men. I’ve coached Drew in high school and in Legion ball, so I’m around him all of the time, but over the past two years, I really got to know Brad well. He’s a great young man. If they keep working, they’re going to be successful at the collegiate level. I’ll be right there if they need anything and I’ll be that eye to watch them if they need anything because of the young men that they are.”