WEST PORTSMOUTH — When a team hits well up and down the lineup, the said unit in question will be in any game that it participates in.
Especially when that unit collects 20 hits across its lineup.
In a Division III, Chillicothe I Sectional Semifinal affair on Wednesday evening in West Portsmouth, the West Senators’ baseball program used the 20-hit barrage — which included multi-hit efforts from seven players — to roll to a 15-5 victory over the Portsmouth Trojans’ baseball program in six innings.
For Chris Rapp, the play is simply part of West peaking at the right time.
“We’re peaking right now,” Rapp said. “We’re a product of what the weather has been, and we’re beginning to put some games together. You’ve got to have repetition in baseball, and we are getting it right now. We are starting to play good baseball.”
As for Josh McGraw, the loss didn’t dampen his spirits on a Portsmouth unit that — with only three major contributors even back from last season — made strides in 2018.
“We were low in February,” McGraw said. “From the first day of practice, it was worrisome. How are we going to mold a team out of only 15 guys? However, a lot of those guys turned themselves into players, and the young guys will keep getting better every year. That’s our goal. I’m very interested to see what these underclassmen, which comprise most of our team, can turn into next year. It will be exciting.”
After Portsmouth was able to strike with a leadoff single from Bryce Wallace, a walk and two passed balls allowed Wallace to come home standing up as the Trojans ultimately obtained a 1-0 lead after the first half-inning of play.
From there, however, the contest proved to be all West.
Even though a walk to Garrett Hurd was ultimately extinguished on an excellent throw by Hayden Yerardi that gunned the junior leadoff hitter down, back-to-back-to-back singles by Drew Cassidy, Dylan Bradford, and Marty Knittel allowed Cassidy to score as West tied the contest at a run apiece. Cade Powell then followed by lacing an RBI single — which ultimately scored two runners because of an outfield error — to left field, and Cade McNeil added on his own RBI single to give the Senators a 4-1 advantage after an inning of play.
West, however, was just starting to get things rolling, as evidenced by its play in the second and third frames of action.
Hurd led off the bottom of the second inning with a double to left field, and two batters later, Bradford quickly added another double to right center field to score Hurd. A single by Knittel moved Bradford up to third, which allowed the latter to score on a sacrifice fly from Trevor Staggs, and after another single from Powell, McNeil followed with his second RBI single in as many innings to give West a 7-1 lead. Brady Whitt then singled to begin the third frame, and after a 1-3 sacrifice bunt by Austin Arnett, advanced to third on a two-out single from Cassidy, with Bradford’s RBI base knock and Knittel’s two-RBI double to left rounding out the third frame.
By the time the opening trio of innings had been played, the Senators already had 14 hits to their credit, and, as a result, a massive 10-1 cushion to play with, thanks in large part to West’s one-through-four hitters (Hurd, Cassidy, Bradford, and Knittel), who went a ridiculous 13-for-17 from the plate with five doubles, nine RBI, and 10 runs scored in the contest. Powell, McNeil, and Whitt were strong themselves, as their 7-for-11 day with four RBI and five runs scored would suggest.
“The hits were not just seeing-eye singles,” Rapp said. “They were hits. Nice shots. Garrett, Drew, Dylan and Marty really came through in the clutch right when we needed it, and that’s what you’ve got to have. When we changed our lineup a little bit and put Dylan in that three spot, that’s when we’ve made our move, and we’ve really been clicking since that time. “As for both Cades and Brady, those guys are only going to get better. They’re the type of kids that listen and really work at their game. That’s what’s going to continue to make them better.”
Because of West’s effectiveness at the plate, the Senators were able to use multiple pitchers on Wednesday evening, which allowed West to keep each of its main hands (Bradford, Cassidy, and Knittel) available for its Division III Sectional Final affair on Saturday. Bradford added four strikeouts and only allowed one earned run to cross the plate on the mound in three innings of work before handing over the keys to Cassidy, who pitched the final three frames and added scoreless marks in the fourth and sixth innings.
“We’ve got the pitching depth to be able to throw several guys in a given game,” Rapp said. “We threw Dylan to start out and got some work from him with the lead. We would’ve kept him in, but we had the lead, and because of that, we were able to bring Drew in, and he came in and did a good job. We were going to come in with Marty, but we were fortunate enough to get the extra runs to win it in six. Now, we’re able to go with Dylan, Drew, and Marty on Saturday.”
In the top half of the fifth inning, however, Portsmouth cut into West’s advantage by a sizeable amount as back-to-back singles from Michael Duncan and Zach Basye, another single from William Sturgill two batters later, and a two-RBI single by Isaac Kelly, along with two wild pitches, allowed Josh McGraw’s unit to cut the lead down to a 10-5 cushion.
Kelly, who along with Basye, Reese Johnson, and Zach Kinney, played in their final contests as Trojans as departing seniors inside the Portsmouth program, each obtained a hit in three trips, with Johnson adding a walk to go 1-for-2 officially, as all three players contributed to the Trojans’ cause.
“They’ve done their part all year,” McGraw said when asked about Kelly’s and Johnson’s production. “They’ve been the anchors of our team from the three and four hole. They were our leaders all year, definitely, out of their positions as pitchers or as infielders. They did a good job for us and I’m very proud of them. They’re both good young men, and they’ve got a bright future ahead of them.”
In the sixth inning, Portsmouth looked like it could possibly make a run behind the play of its guys at the bottom of the order. Basye and Duncan, along with Jack Workman, strung together three well-hit baseballs to the left side of the infield, and Zach Kinney drew a walk in between those hits. However, none of the balls that were put in play ever came to a true fruition for Portsmouth, because on each occasion, Knittel — who moved from third base to shortstop following Cassidy’s move to the hill before the fourth inning began — made three excellent, heady plays to prevent the Trojans from getting their own offense into high gear.
“West made some good plays defensively,” McGraw said. “We had three plays in the sixth inning where, against a lot of teams, we’re going to have three base hits on the board. However, their shortstop (Marty Knittel) put on a clinic in that inning, and as a result, those are three outs. That’s what happens when you play a good ballclub. All we can do is control our swing. We’ve got a ways to go at that, as well, and we will, but I’m proud of how hard these guys work.”
“You have to be strong up the middle, and we’re strong,” Rapp said. “With the combination that we had tonight, that gives us our best look on defense and keeps us strong. When Drew went to the mound, Marty made two spectacular plays at shortstop that really stymied Portsmouth’s momentum. That’s just a guy who’s showing off his experience. He’s a four-year starter, and that shows when he’s out in the field.”
From there, the Senators never looked back. After a two-out single by Cassidy, an error, allowed Bradford to drive in Cassidy in the fifth frame, Whitt, Hurd, and Cassidy followed with RBI base hits in the sixth inning after a double by Powell and a walk by McNeil to begin the frame to close the deal.
With the win, West (10-8) will move on to the Division III, Chillicothe I Sectional Finals, where a trip to Paint Valley, another solid opponent from the Scioto Valley Conference, awaits. Game time is set for Saturday at 11 a.m.
“Paint Valley’s in that SVC,” Rapp said. “It’s a solid conference. They mimic the SOC II. Teams one-through-three, one-through-four can beat anybody on a given night. We’re ready for the challenge, and we’ve got two days to work for it. Our goal is to bring home a sectional championship.”
As for Portsmouth, the Trojans look to be in good shape heading into the 2019 season. While Portsmouth will have to rebuild on the mound once again with the loss of its top three pitchers in Johnson, Kelly, and Kinney, along with its designated hitter in Basye, the remaining members of the starting lineup — Sturgill, Workman, Duncan, Bryce Wallace, Devin Jackson, and Hayden Yerardi — all return in 2019. Sturgill is the lone senior in that group of players.
“Coming in, we knew the type of team that we were going to be,” McGraw said. “We knew that it was going to be an uphill climb replacing eight starters. That’s tough. These seniors and their teammates, however, embraced the process ahead of them and really worked hard. A lot of times, you don’t see how many ballgames that we’re in. We were in a lot of ballgames until the sixth or seventh inning, when we just got low on pitching and didn’t have enough depth there or made a couple of mistakes that kind of loses the game when you have a bad inning and things. However, from where they’ve all started in February, they’ve come a long way.”