HILLSBORO — Portsmouth Post 23’s Junior Team played in two games Saturday, July 18 as part of the Junior Legion Regional Tournament hosted at Hillsboro’s Shaffer Park.
Game One — Semifinals vs. Hillsboro Post 129
Baseball is the sport, maybe more so than any other, that until the final out is recorded, the other team still might have a last push in them.
Rather than test that theory, Portsmouth Post 23’s Junior Team decided to take matters in their own hands in the late stages of this shootout.
In a back-and-forth contest that tallied 16 total runs by game’s end, it was Portsmouth Post 23’s Junior Team who made the final push to claim a 9-7 win over Hillsboro Post 129’s Junior Team.
The Post 23 Juniors certainly finished with the higher run count by game’s end, but it ultimately took a rallying effort on two occasions to overcome two separate Hillsboro leads on their home field.
“Kind of a different game for us, down in the game two different times, once down three runs and had to come back,” Post 23 Juniors coach Josh McGraw said following the win. “Put the ball in play, make good things happen. Had some young guys step up, freshman and sophomore guys step up and get us some hits to put us ahead.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Post 23’s Isaiah Kelly doubled to drive in the go-ahead runner Jacob Sloan, giving his team an 8-7 lead. Kelly would score after a throwing error to give Portsmouth a two-run advantage going into Hillboro’s final at-bats.
While it was Portsmouth who scored the final two runs, Hillsboro got the scoring started with a three-run top of the second inning to stake an early lead.
Post 23 would respond in the bottom of the third by scoring six run courtesy of five hits, three walks, and a runner who reached via Hillsboro error. In total, Portsmouth sent a game-high 12 batters to the plate in that half inning.
Tyler Duncan drove in two runs for Post 23 with an RBI single in the bottom of the third, his second at-bat of the inning, as teammates Blake Stuntebeck and Hayden Yerardi each drove in one run apiece with singles.
Hillsboro would connect for four more off Stuntebeck in the top of the fourth to retake their lead 7-6 at the midway point of the game. Stuntebeck finished with three and two-thirds innings pitched before being replaced by teammate Vinnie Lonardo with two outs in the top of the fourth. Lonardo would see 11 batters, walking six and striking out four in his one and two-thirds innings pitched.
Post 23’s Kaleb Seals evened things up in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI single to drive in Isaac Doolin.
Yerardi and Sloan allowed no runs as the duo combined to pitch the final one and two-thirds innings to push Post 23 to their championship, winner-take-all postseason finale.
With the win, Post 23 improved to 17-8-1 and earned the right to play in Saturday’s third game — the Regional Tournament Championship against the winner of regional foes Chillicothe Post 757 and Waverly Post 142.
“We’re playing with house money,” McGraw said. “We had a little bit of a different attitude coming into this, missing three big starters — two from the infield. This type of game, we’re just going to go out and see what happens. We’ll just worry about playing each inning and seeing what happens in the end.”
Regardless of result in the championship game, McGraw acknowledged his pleasure in seeing how much his team improved from the start of the summer until Saturday. Of course, he was ecstatic with having the season and helping the talented, young baseball players of southern Ohio improve.
Even three months ago, McGraw and his team weren’t sure if they’d have any season at all following the spring sports season cancellation. On Saturday, their reflections were appreciative of a season that almost never was.
“It’s really been awesome. We started out 1-4, and after those five ball games I was questioning what we were going to do,” McGraw said. “Trying to get kids ready, but really they weren’t ready for not having a high school season, they hadn’t had enough reps. Since that our record’s been awesome. It’s been great to be on the field. I was driving up here today and thought, what if baseball had never opened up? What would we be doing right now? It’s been really great for these kids to have this this summer.”
Game Two — Finals vs. Chillicothe Post 757
Chillicothe Post 757’s Junior Team bested Portsmouth Post 23 12-1 in six innings in the championship game of the Junior Legion Regional Tournament.
To earn their spot in Saturday’s championship, Chillicothe defeated Waverly Post 142’s Junior Team 4-2.
In the nightcap game between the two finalists, Post 23 managed just two hits and drew three walks — scoring their lone run in the bottom of the fifth.
Chillicothe scored 10 of their 12 runs in their final three innings of at-bats after scoring a run apiece in the second and third innings.
Bryson Brown pitched all six innings for Chillicothe while Jacob Sloan got the start and pitched four innings for Portsmouth.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved