PORTSMOUTH — For the Portsmouth Post 23 Juniors baseball squad, it was a call to arms on Wednesday —in order to save some arms for the weekend.
And, save some strength and firepower it indeed did.
Sandwiched around six games in three days as part of last weekend’s ‘Kickoff Klassic’ and at least four scheduled tilts for this weekend’s Hillsboro Wooden Bat Tournament, the Juniors utilized only three pitchers against the visiting Waverly Shockers for a mid-week league bout.
The three-headed monster of starter Brock Kitchen and relievers Tyler Duncan and Michael Duncan did not allow a single solitary Shocker run —and Post 23 amounted more than enough run support en route to rolling Waverly 8-0 inside Portsmouth High School’s Hatcher Field.
After starting the season 2-3, the Juniors (7-5) finished 4-2 in and advanced to the ‘Kickoff Klassic’ semifinals— with their only defeats coming by one run apiece against the two tournament finalists.
In Sunday’s semifinal, and out of fuel for pitching power, the Juniors dropped a 6-5 decision to the Dayton Classics —on a walk-off basehit.
With two days off until Wednesday with winless Waverly (0-10) coming to town, Post 23 had an ample opportunity to rest some arms —as Thursday was another off day prior to Friday’s first pitch at 12:30 p.m. against Lancaster Post 11 Red in Hillsboro.
Before the game, Post 23 coach Josh McGraw opted to extend the arm rest —by not taking pregame infield practice and by polling his players about how their arms felt and how many innings they were available against the Shockers.
The majority was good for at least one, but Kitchen and the Duncans did the job over the full seven.
And, aided by a defense that committed only one error, the trio only allowed five hits and three walks while not hitting a batter —and combined for seven strikeouts.
At the plate, despite going down in order in the fourth and sixth stanzas, the Juniors scored at least one point in the other four frames —including a four-run, three-hit, two-walk outburst in the third to make it 7-0.
Post 23 amassed seven hits, but similar to last Tuesday’s triumph (5-1) over Hillsboro, the Juniors walked seven times against the Shockers —while also getting hit twice.
Portsmouth scored twice in the opening inning, followed by single scores in the second and fifth frames — and sandwiched around the four-run separation in the third.
McGraw said the gameplan to save arms — and instead use eyes, ears, legs, feet and minds — worked to near-perfection.
“Our pitchers were working on pitch counts, and the three we threw tonight have had the most rest. We used almost all of our pitchers last weekend, but they all were on at least three days rest throwing. I think Tyler (Duncan) and Michael (Duncan) both had four days (rest). It was good to get them out there working again and not have to pitch under stress. And Brock (Kitchen) kept his pitch count low. He was under 25 pitches for two innings. So that was good,” said the coach. “The whole goal of today was to save pitchers for this coming weekend, get good at-bats, and get some guys some playing time. I thought it worked out perfect.”
Kitchen threw the opening two innings, Tyler Duncan the next two, and finally Michael Duncan the closing three.
Kitchen was credited with the win in facing only eight Shockers, as the only runners he allowed were a Nic Lightle one-out double in the first followed by a one-out Carter Williams walk in the second.
Tyler Duncan dealt to only seven Shockers, striking out three and retiring the side 1-2-3 in the third — before giving up a single to center by Hunter Edwards.
The Shockers threatened greater against Michael Duncan in the fifth and seventh, sandwiched around a 1-2-3 sixth.
In the fifth, Williams reached on an infield hit but was retired on a 5-4 fielder’s choice, as Trevan King then singled combined with an outfield error for runners on the corners.
But Duncan induced a 6-3 groundout to end the threat.
In the seventh, Edwards singled to center again and two other Shockers drew walks to load the bases, but with two outs, Duncan got King to ground out to second to end the game.
Truth be told, the Juniors’ defense has improved in 11 days by leaps and bounds.
“The defense was good. When they put the ball in play, we made the plays. I am actually shocked but very pleased with how much better our defense is than day one. We were rusty out of the gate, making seven or eight errors a game for the first few games. But we just kept plugging away,” said McGraw. “These guys are still coming off the shelf as far as not getting a high school season, but last weekend really brought us together as a team. We saw how good we can be, and our defense is just getting better. That’s fun as a coach when you see kids have fun and have success making plays on defense. It helps their hitting as well.”
It does indeed.
With the defense doing its job, and against exhausted opposition arms, Post 23 exhibited patience once again at the plate.
Six of the first seven batters reached base, including three via the free pass, towards the two runs on two hits.
Against Edwards in the fifth and with a 7-0 advantage, the Juniors drew three walks and one hit batsman for their final run.
“They (Shockers) were in the same situation we had. They pitched a lot of guys this weekend (in ‘Kickoff Klassic’) and you could tell their pitchers were a little tired. They were out of the zone for the first few innings, and a good team is going to walk. You don’t want to go up there and swing at bad pitches, you have to have some discipline,” said McGraw. “That’s the difference between a good team and an average team. An average team is going to strike out more, and a good team is going to take what they are given. If you are going to get walks, take walks. It’s just as good as a hit, but you have to have the mental discipline at the plate to take those pitches. We did a good job of that tonight.”
Post 23 scored all the runs it needed for the win in the first.
Kitchen led off with an infield hit, Caeleb McGraw and Isaiah Kelly drew back-to-back walks, and Seals singled in Kitchen for the 1-0 lead.
With one out, Randy Moore was hit by a pitch to cross McGraw.
In the second, Hayden Yerardi doubled to center, then scored with two outs two batters later on a Kitchen single which screamed down the right-field line.
In the third, the Juniors combined two walks, three consecutive singles, Waverly’s only error of the game and a Blake Stuntebeck sacrifice fly for four more markers.
Kelly walked to lead off, then Seals, Daewin Spence and Moore all singled —with Moore knocking in both Kelly and Seals.
Jacob Richardson’s RBI on the error scored Spence, as Moore made it home on the Stuntebeck sac fly — following a walk to Yerardi.
Finally in the fifth, Moore was hit by a pitch while Michael Duncan, Yerardi and Stuntebeck drew walks — with Stuntebeck credited with the RBI that crossed Duncan.
The Juniors just about enforced the 10-run mercy rule, but left the bases loaded —although at 8-0 there wasn’t a serious worry at that point.
Duncan got through the last two innings and, almost exactly according to plan, the Juniors executed their call to arms for this weekend.
Coach McGraw said the Hillsboro Wooden Bat Tournament features a round-robin format, “so every game counts”.
There are two different divisions, with each team playing four pool play games.
McGraw explained that his charges are armed at full strength —and will be ready.
“We’re not going to play six or seven games again. The most we can play is five, but you have to make it to that fifth game, which is Sunday’s championship game,” he said. “They take the top seed out of each bracket, so my guess is you’re going to have to be 3-1 or 4-0 to advance to the championship. We’ll attack the first four with all of our pitching and see what we have. Our top four starting pitchers should be ready to go in each of the first four. We’re not going to save for the championship game, we’re trying to make it first and see what we have when we’re there. We’re not going to leave anything on the table.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved