LUCASVILLE — Perhaps the Portsmouth Trojans, on a wind-driven chilled Tuesday for mid-to-late April, were still operating on Myrtle Beach time.
That’s because, by their own admission, they didn’t play well overall —especially offensively against an improving yet youthful Valley Indians’ unit.
However, it helped Portsmouth to have a fast start —and ultimately a strong finish from senior shortstop Madison Perry making a heads-up defensive play to send everybody home to get warm.
The Trojans scored three opening-inning runs on a third of their nine hits, then added what proved to be the difference-making marker in the sixth —as Portsmouth fended off the hard-charging Indians for a 4-3 non-league softball victory at Valley’s “Reservation”.
For the now 11-2 Trojans, playing their first game after traveling to Myrtle Beach and sunny South Carolina over Easter weekend for four bouts, they showed no signs of early proverbial jet-lag —landing three runs on three hits and Valley’s only error over their first four batters.
Against Valley pitcher Emilie Johnson, Emily Cheatham put down a bunt for a single and stole second —followed by an Olivia Ramey RBI-double which scored Cheatham.
Perry reached on the only Indian error, as Olivia Dickerson cleaned up and singled to right to plate Ramey and Perry —with Perry’s point being unearned.
But that was pretty much all the action until the sixth —and finally in what turned out to be quite the dramatic seventh.
With Portsmouth holding a 4-2 edge entering the last, Johnson retired the Trojans 1-2-3 — setting herself and her Indian teammates up for a possible walkoff win, as Valley had the top of the order up against Trojan senior pitcher Faith Phillips.
Johnson led off and dropped in a double in centerfield between two Trojan defenders, senior Taylor Cunningham hit a dribbler for an infield hit, and Addy Conaway —who went a perfect 4-for-4 with a home run shy of the cycle —clubbed a double down the left-field line to cross Johnson.
That made it 4-3 with no outs, and Cunningham and Conaway were in both in scoring position.
But Phillips, finding ways to escape jams all evening, got out of her most dire one yet —by first recording her sixth and final strikeout.
Finally, the Indians’ other senior Lexi Whitt —with two strikes on her —popped out to Perry, who quickly turned and caught Cunningham off third.
Perry threw to Ramey for the tag, the third out, and ultimately an “ugly” victory — according to PHS head coach Kristen Bradshaw.
However, in her same thought, any win is a good win —no matter the style points.
Truth be told, following the first inning, it looked like the Trojans brought their golf game back from Myrtle Beach instead of softball —as the Grand Strand is regarded as the “Golf Capital of the World”.
Portsmouth popped several balls up to the outfield, and the Indians’ three outfielders of the centerfielder Cunningham, leftfielder Abby Webb and especially rightfielder Olivia Hilton all made solid —sometimes difficult — catches.
“We always talk about jumping right on them right off the bat, and getting on that scoreboard first. We did a nice job in the first at-bat with three runs. But after that, it seemed like we slacked off at the plate. A lot of lazy pop-ups. And normally, hitting has been our strength the past few years. Just pitch selection was off, I think we weren’t in the right mindset at the plate, and I think we relaxed after we scored three and just held them for a few innings on defense,” said Bradshaw. “We never got that momentum back.”
It wasn’t until the sixth when the Trojans —against Johnson —got on the board once more, as their only other baserunners following their first four at-bats were a Cheatham two-out double in the second and a two-out walk in the fourth, a Sydney Johnson one-out single in the fourth, a Perry one-out single in the fifth, and finally Dickerson hitting into a rare 9-6 fielder’s choice.
With one out, Johnson singled to center, Madison Ankrom bloop-singled to shallow right, and Kyndal Kearns came up with an RBI-single to center to score Johnson —and more importantly make it 4-0.
Both pitchers threw well with complete games —each facing 32 batters, not hitting a single one, and walking only one apiece.
The Indians outhit the Trojans 11-9, despite Phillips striking out six and Emilie Johnson five.
“Faith pitched a really good game, and we always say that if we hold teams to three runs or less, we have a good shot at winning with the way we hit the ball. Faith hit her spots for the most part and did her job, and she should have and deserved to win this ballgame,” said Bradshaw.
Phillips retired the Indians 1-2-3 in innings two, three and five —and left runners on first and second in the first, followed by Indians on the corners in the fourth.
Up until the sixth, Valley’s offense simply consisted of four hits —two-out official singles by Conaway and Madison Montgomery in the first followed by Conaway and Whitt with singles in the fourth, combined with a 4-6 fielder’s choice in which Conaway went to third.
However, Phillips ended those threats by first inducing a popout to Perry in the first —followed by a groundout to Ramey at third in the fourth.
Valley first-year head coach Kayla Taulbee talked about her Indians’ comeback, but which was the result of yet another slow start.
“Our biggest thing all year has been our first couple innings are rough for us. We have to find a way to figure out how to be ready to go first inning, first at-bat. The first inning today we make an error, Emilie (Johnson) doesn’t work ahead in counts sometimes. Going forward, we have to be better in the first inning,”said Taulbee. “It was a great comeback and I am proud of the girls for fighting back, but as far as offense, we waited way too long to make adjustments on their pitcher. Had we made adjustments earlier, we would have put more runs on the board.”
The young Indians finally did that in the sixth with one out —when four consecutive batters reached base.
Conaway tripled to center, Montgomery and Braxtyn Holbrook had infield singles sandwiched around Whitt’s single to center, and Montgomery got an RBI by scoring Conaway.
Montgomery then scored on a Camry Carpenter RBI-groundout, and Phillips’ walk to Webb loaded the bases with two outs.
But Phillips fought back, getting the nine-hole hitter Hilton to pop out to Dickerson at first.
For those into counting, seven of the Indians’ 11 hits were over the final two innings —but five of their eight left stranded were over the same span.
The Trojans catching Cunningham off third was perhaps Portsmouth’s best overall at-bat of the entire day.
“Faith is a ground-ball pitcher, and our defense is excellent, especially those two seniors on the left side that made that play to end the game,” said Bradshaw. “They got out of some tough situations.”
“Just waiting too long to make adjustments on a pitcher, and that can’t happen against a good team,” said Taulbee. “At the end I told Taylor (Cunningham) we had one out, so I am not sure what happened there. Not a great way to end the game with 4-3 and only one out, but we’re learning from this going forward.”
The now 5-4 and ever-improving Indians, indeed, played Portsmouth — an experienced unit and Ohio Valley Conference current leaders — quite well.
“They (Trojans) are a very good team, but this shows that we’re a good team too. They (Indians) just have to start putting the things that we’re working on to the game. As far as Emilie goes, she pitched great and the defense did really well,” said Taulbee. “But situational hitting wasn’t on point until the last two innings.”
Which the Trojans were the beneficiaries of —perhaps playing Tuesday at times on Myrtle Beach time.
Still, as Bradshaw said, that wasn’t — and isn’t — an excuse.
“The at-bats have to be better and we can’t cut it close like that, but a win is a win,” said the coach. “Valley played well and their coaches have them going in the right direction, but we all can’t come out and play poorly on the same day.”
* * *
Portsmouth 300 001 0 — 4 9 1
Valley 000 002 1 —3 11 1
PHS: Faith Phillips 7IP, 3R, 3ER, 11H, 0HB, 1BB, 6K, 32BF
VHS: Emilie Johnson 7IP, 4R, 3ER, 9H, 0HB, 1BB, 5K, 32BF
W — Faith Phillips; L — Emilie Johnson
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved