CHILLICOTHE — Before Sunday evening’s actual storm over Chillicothe’s Hoffman Field at Mary Lou Patton Park, it was actually the proverbial perfect storm for Portsmouth Post 23 earlier that afternoon.
In truth, on paper at least, probably Post 23 wasn’t expected to make a major impact in this week’s Region V Tournament —given it was the lowest-seeded squad of the four competing and opening the double-elimination event at top-seeded and host Chillicothe Post 757.
However, in a single-game setting — even amid double-elimination — all an underdog needs is an ace pitcher on top of his game along with a few runs, whether earned or not.
All of the above, under Sunday’s sweltering skies with temperatures soaring into the mid-90s, played out perfectly for Portsmouth — as Post 23 never trailed and ultimately pulled off a 4-3 upset of the Colts in the tournament’s two-loss lid-lifter.
The win upped Portsmouth’s record to 8-24-1, while the Colts slipped to 22-13.
All four Post 23 runs were unearned — as it scored two in its initial at-bat, broke a 2-2 tie with another unearned marker in the fourth inning, and finally broke a 3-3 deadlock with a single seventh-stanza point.
With that 4-3 advantage entering the Colts’ last chance, Post 23 pitcher Elias Robson — the Wheelersburg product in arguably his best outing of the entire summer — recorded the final three outs in advancing Portsmouth on.
He first struck out Kody Haubeil for his only second strikeout, then got Chillicothe leadoff Lane Larson to fly out to Seth Nichols in left field, as Nichols — who actually made six catches for flyball outs — nicely tracked down the high-lifted fly into foul territory.
But the final out was perhaps the hardest of the game to get, and did come with a touch of controversy.
The Colts’ Emmitt Cunningham beat out an infield hit off Robson, as Hunter Thomas’ throw from shortstop sailed high of first base —and the quick Cunningham charged for second.
But properly backing up the play down the first-base line was Post 23 catcher Mason Montgomery, who grabbed the ball and fired a throw to second baseman Reece Whitley, who applied the tag to Cunningham sliding in.
From the Post 23 dugout, it was clear and present that Whitley made the tag, although Cunningham was initially ruled safe — as Portsmouth head coach Drew Lowe and his crew vehemently spilled out from the bench and argued the call.
The two base umpires then conferred and the call was changed, which obviously upset Chillicothe’s coach who in turn argued, but to no avail.
“The right call was made in the end,” said Lowe. “On the last at-bat, Mason Montgomery does what the catcher should do there, comes down the line and backs the ball up. Then just like you practice, he throws to Reece (Whitley) at second base who makes the tag. Repetition, repetition, repetition, you practice those situations.”
Indeed the call stood, Cunningham was ruled out, and Post 23 had completed its upset to send the host Colts into the losers’ bracket.
“We talked before the game about having nothing to lose in this situation. Let’s put pressure on them, make them make plays, and throughout the day that’s what our guys did,” said Lowe. “We took advantage of their mistakes.”
That they did.
The Colts committed four errors, including two on errant throws by relief pitcher Kyle Wingo in the seventh.
Wingo walked Nichols to lead off, as Nichols dashed to second on a poor pickoff attempt.
Whitley then laid down a bunt, as another Wingo throw sailed high which allowed Whitley to reach and sprint to second — despite Nichols being caught in a rundown between third and home, which was actually the third and final instance in which a Post 23 runner was tagged out along the basepaths.
But Portsmouth quickly recovered, as third baseman Cade McNeil — who collected three quality defensive assists and one putout — made the most of his final at-bat.
With Whitley on third thanks to a Wingo wild pitch, McNeil singled to left — crossing Whitley for the sudden 4-3 lead.
McNeil was left stranded with Wingo’s final two of three strikeouts, but no harm done — as Robson saw the minimum three for the fourth time.
Aside from the drama-filled seventh inning, Robson retired the Colts 1-2-3 in innings one, five and six —and set down the next three in the second after Drew Seymour managed an infield hit and stole second.
Robson’s complete-game victory line included facing 29 total batters, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and two walks.
The Colts scored twice in the third on three hits and a walk for the 2-2 tie, then forged the 3-3 lock in the fourth with their final run on two hits and Robson’s other walk.
But Robson escaped any additional damage in both at-bats, stranding Colts on the corners in the third followed by men on second and third in the fourth.
Nichols caught the fly ball to end the third, followed by McNeil making his first groundball assist to close the next inning.
Behind Robson, Portsmouth committed only one error.
“Elias set the tone early, going 1-2-3 with the first inning and then 1-2-3 after an infield hit in the second. He controlled the game and did a really good job on the mound. That’s what you want from a pitcher in playoff baseball. To limit that team to three runs with the bats they have in their lineup, he pitched really well,” said Lowe. “And across the board, we played great defensively. Cade McNeil at third base and Seth Nichols in the outfield really played great.”
While Robson, McNeil, Nichols and Thomas (two assists and one putout) were the defensive stalwarts, Chase Conley paced Post 23’s six-hit offensive attack.
Conley went 2-for-4, as his two-out two-run double in the opening inning was the most important at-bat — up until McNeil’s go-ahead RBI-single in the seventh.
With one away, Whitley reached on a fielding error, McNeil grounded into a 5-4 fielder’s choice, and the cleanup man Montgomery was hit by a Jaden McNish pitch.
Conley conked his double to center, scoring McNeil and Montgomery for the early 2-0 lead.
He then singled in the sixth against Wingo, but he and Blake Wood — who walked — would be left stranded.
“Chase Conley has come into himself throughout the summer with big hits in big situations. He had two big hits today, hitting a ball back up the middle on a 2-2 count above his eyes and of course the double in the first inning was a great hit,” said Lowe.
The third most-important knock was by Thomas, whose two-out RBI-single in the fourth made it 3-2.
Wood singled to center, Robson reached on another E-6, and Thomas —the nine-hole hitter —singled to center to plate Wood.
McNish pitched the first five frames for the Colts, as none of his three runs allowed were earned — as he scattered four hits with a walk to McNeil in the third.
He struck out six of the 22 batters he faced, including the side 1-2-3 in the second.
McNish actually retired — following Conley’s double until Wood’s single —nine of 10 hitters, as Nichols singled off him in the fifth, following the ball taking a terrible hop against the home team off the third-base bag.
Nichols was cut down at the plate for the third out of the inning, but neither negative baserunning outcome impacted Portsmouth’s positive Sunday experience.
After all, it was the perfect storm before an actual storm over Chillicothe later that evening.
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