PORTSMOUTH — If you’re gonna get stranded on an island, or on bases in this case, might as well strand some others along with you.
While the Portsmouth Post 23 Juniors simply left too many men aboard for comfort’s sake on Thursday, their pitching trio turned the tables equally on Ashland.
In the end, the Juniors’ four early runs were enough, as Post 23’s three hurlers combined to allow only one unearned run and two hits —en route to capturing a 4-1 victory over the young Tomcats in a non-league baseball affair at Portsmouth High School’s Hatcher Field.
With the win, which was actually the Juniors’ third consecutive if discarding their time-limit tie from last Saturday’s Hillsboro Wooden Bat Tournament, Post 23 is now 10-6-1 — as it also shut out host Jackson on Wednesday with a 14-0, five-inning runaway.
Ashland’s juniors, which actually began official competition this past week, are younger members of primarily the Tomcats’ high school squad — as the older experienced players play for Post 76, which is hosting its July 4 tournament this weekend.
In fact, the Post 23 Seniors are in Ashland to partake — as they dropped a 9-8 decision on Thursday in the tournament’s opening bout.
But back to the Junior clubs competing in Portsmouth, as Ashland opened the scoring by combining three straight two-out walks with a balk for its only point.
The Tomcats’ 10 men stranded might seem high, but the Juniors pitchers only allowed two hits —an Eli Miller third-inning double to right field in which a diving Hayden Yerardi was within an eyelash of catching, and a Carson Johnson sixth-stanza leadoff single.
While the Juniors’ Jacob Sloan (3IP, 14BF, 1R, 0ER, 1H, 5BB, 0HB, 5K), Vinnie Lonardo ( 2 1/3IP, 12BF, 0R, 0ER, 1H, 4BB, 0HB, 5K) and Rodney Moore (1 2/3IP, 7BF, 0R, 0ER, 0H, 1BB, 0HB, 4K) managed to walk 10 Tomcats, they pitched their way out of predicaments —and fanned 14 in the process.
Sloan started and earned the win, while West’s Moore — who relieved Lonardo in the sixth and actually issued his only walk to load the bases for the second time in the game — gained the save.
He induced back-to-back fielder’s choices of 3-2 and 4-6 for the final two outs in the sixth and thwart that serious threat, then struck out four —yes that’s right four not three — Tomcats in the seventh.
An Ashland runner managed to get aboard on a dropped third strike.
The Juniors’ pitching committee has been a stronghold all summer, and although it issued more walks than usual on Thursday, Post 23 coach Josh McGraw was pleased it pitched itself out of some potential dicey spots.
With runners on second and third in the first and on the corners in the third, Sloan stormed back with inning-ending looking strikeouts.
Lonardo did the same in the fifth, following leadoff walks which put Tomcats on first and second.
“We had some walks tonight, but we pitched our way out. Our pitching was good, we just had walks here and there but they came back and threw the ball pretty hard and had multiple pitches working. We had two pitchers, (Jacob) Sloan and Vinnie (Lonardo), who were on vacation last week and that was the first time they had thrown in a while,” said McGraw. “We expected them to perhaps walk a few, because that’s just part of the game. They hadn’t really thrown in probably 10 days, and both were on pitch counts of around 60. But they didn’t give up many hits, and they battled through it and got their innings in by throwing the ball very hard. Then Rodney (Moore) came in and closed it out for us. I was very proud of all three of their efforts. They did a great job.”
The only other instance in which Ashland loaded the bases was its initial at-bat, when Sloan walked three in a row — and then balked in Sawyer Alley for the visitors’ only marker.
Sloan struck out Johnson for the third out, then faced just three Tomcats in the second — before leaving the corners stranded in the third.
Miller doubled and Sawyer walked with two away, but Sloan struck out looking the final two Tomcats he saw.
Lonardo faced four batters in the fourth and five in the fifth, before being pulled in favor of Moore in the sixth after Johnson’s single and his final walk.
The Juniors did get good defensive play and didn’t commit a common error, as second baseman Kaleb Seals secured three assists — including on the crucial inning-ending 4-6 fielder’s choice in the sixth.
Post 23 crossed its four runs unanswered — scoring three times in the first followed by an earned run on two hits and two walks off Ryan Brown in the third.
In the first, and against Ashland starter Miller, the Juniors combined a Brock Kitchen leadoff walk and stolen base with three errors and RBI-singles by Caeleb McGraw and Sloan for their three runs.
McGraw drove in Kitchen, then scored on the E-6 off the bat of Seals — as Seals scored on the RBI-single by Sloan.
Another leadoff walk and stolen base in the third, this one by Daewin Spence off Brown, set up his coming home on an RBI-single by Blake Stuntebeck.
The Tomcats made five errors as Miller and Brown combined for five walks, as Portsmouth pounded out eight hits, including three singles by McGraw.
Besides Sloan and Stuntebeck’s scoring singles, Yerardi had a deep infield hit in the third —followed by Moore mashing a triple to the right-center gap in the fourth and Isaiah Kelly connecting for a single in the fifth.
Coach McGraw wasn’t thrilled at leaving 11 runners stranded, but as it turned out, those ducks didn’t come back to bite.
Those included runners at second and third in the first, the bases loaded in the second and third, Moore after his two-out triple in the fourth, and runners on first and second in the fifth.
“They gave us some bases and we took advantage of it. It just seemed like we couldn’t cap off the innings tonight, though, and we left a lot of guys on base. Eleven is a lot to leave hanging out there. Part of it was bad luck, just hitting the ball hard but not finding a hole. Line drives to the outfield which are caught are part of the game,” said McGraw. “It was one of those nights where we really needed our pitchers, because we weren’t scoring a lot of runs. We played decent defense, and our pitchers pretty much won the game.”
Something which has been a recurring theme.
The Juniors started 0-3, but have won all 10 since — as their only losses in the past three weeks have been a pair of one-run outcomes in the Chillicothe “Kickoff Klassic” (4-3 to Columbus Sharks and 6-5 to Dayton Classics) and a 2-0 defeat to Lancaster at Hillsboro.
“We lost our first three games, just trying to get back in the groove of things and we had a tough schedule early on. We played two really good teams for the first four games (Lancaster and Chillicothe). But once we found our rhythm, kids are having more fun coming to the park.” said McGraw. “They are swinging the bat a little better, our pitchers have been lights out and our defense is getting better. I really think we have 13 or 14 good ballplayers on this team.”
Post 23, which blanked visiting Waverly 8-0 10 days ago, travels to face the Junior Shockers on Saturday.
The contest will be a single nine-inning outing at 11 a.m.
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