CHILLICOTHE — With Thursday’s matinee approaching a fourth full hour, and even an unbelievable and improbable 14th inning, perhaps Portsmouth’s Post 23 Juniors just realized it was well past lunchtime.
So, at long last, following a marathon matchup for the Region V American Legion Baseball Juniors opener, Post 23 — finally — put its contest to bed, and likely headed for restaurant row along Bridge Street in Chillicothe.
But Portsmouth played for sure like a hungry and determined bunch against top-seeded Waverly Post 142 —and perhaps thirsty Thursday’s thrilling and epic affair only wetted its appetite for a potential weekend championship.
That’s because fourth-seeded Post 23 rallied from a 3-0 first-inning deficit, didn’t commit a single error after the Shockers’ second batter, got a pair of pitching gems from starter Landon Hutchinson and reliever and winner Jakob Tipton, and scratched out a fifth and final run for a 5-4 13-inning victory inside a spacious yet steambaked VA Memorial Stadium.
That’s correct, count ‘em 13 innings —or almost two full regular-season seven-inning games.
Indeed, as Ernie Banks would have wanted to play two, Post 23 just wanted to win one.
Portsmouth, off Shockers’ starter and West standout Trevor Fike, plated two runs on two hits in the second for a 3-2 deficit —then went ahead 4-3 following two runs on four more hits and a Shocker error in the third.
In both instances, seven batters faced Fike —but it wasn’t until the top of the 13th in which Post 23 finally broke the 4-4 tie, which had withstood the test of time and nine scoreless innings before it.
In the fateful 13th, once again Post 23 sent seven batters to the plate —against Waverly quality reliever Malik Diack.
Kolton Salyers singled to center to lead off, advanced to second on a Jack Picklesimer sacrifice bunt, went to third on a wild pitch —and finally scored for the 5-4 lead on a Rowdy Watkins RBI-single.
Watkins was the nine-hole hitter on Thursday, and although he didn’t reach base until that 13th frame, he put the ball in play in all five of his previous plate appearances.
So yes, Watkins was due —even overdue for a basehit, per Post 23 coach Matt Miller.
“Rowdy was due. He had hit the ball all day every time up. And he hit the ball hard a few times. I knew he was due, but because he has been consistent all year, I trusted him to get the job done in that spot,” said Miller. “And he did.”
Needless to say, but it was a dire-needed run —with Tipton approaching a seventh inning of action, Portsmouth’s pitching availability for Friday’s games getting a further review, and just the general sense that Post 23’s time was running out.
Diack had already stranded Hutchinson at third in the eighth, Tipton and Aodhan Queen at second and first in the 10th, and especially the bases loaded in the 12th.
After Owen Young beat out a throw for an infield hit, and Tipton drawing a walk in his final at-bat, Post 23 actually loaded the bases again —with the 5-4 lead and with Watkins the lead runner.
“It was a big inning for us,” revealed Miller. “We needed it. We had opportunities in the eighth and 10th, and the 12th with bases loaded, and we didn’t capitalize. To come through with a run in the 13th, it sparked our energy for the bottom half to finish it off.”
That Tipton did in the bottom half —first getting a groundout followed by his sixth strikeout.
Hunter Hauck, the Shockers’ leadoff hitter, singled to right to keep Waverly alive —but only briefly, for Tipton struck out Christian Horn to end the game.
With that, Post 23 raised its impressive record to 17-6 —and more importantly punched its ticket to Friday’s finals of the winners’ bracket against second-seeded Chillicothe.
In Thursday’s second Region V bout at VA Memorial Stadium, Chillicothe mercy-ruled third-seeded Hillsboro —13-3 in six innings.
The tournament is indeed double-elimination, as Waverly will play Hillsboro in an elimination game on Friday (at 10 a.m.).
As for how Post 23 —with winning 16 regular-season games —got the lowest of four seeds you ask?
“These seedings are a bit misleading, because it was a blind draw,” said the coach. “Waverly and us have had some battles this year. I was very happy with the outcome of course, and it was a very good game played by both teams.”
That it was.
Both Fike for Waverly and Hutchinson for Portsmouth posted seven innings pitched — with four runs allowed and three earned.
Hutchinson faced 33 Shockers and gave up nine hits and four walks with one intentional to Diack in the seventh, while Fike faced 30 Portsmouth hitters and scattered seven hits with one walk —to J.D. Matiz in the second.
Fike did hit Rhyan Queen twice with pitches, which led directly to Queen crossing twice —scoring once in the second and third.
As Tipton and Diack battled for the six extra stanzas, Tipton tossed two-hit ball while walking four — as both he and Hutchinson struck out seven Shockers apiece.
Diack gave up seven hits and three walks with one intentional —as with two outs in the 12th, Tipton and Aodhan Queen singled and Rhyan Queen walked, before Diack squashed the threat with a strikeout.
Both teams stranded 14 runners apiece, as Portsmouth outhit Waverly 14-11 — spearheaded by a game-high four from the three-hole hitter Tipton.
The Shockers were charged with four errors —three coming from the catcher’s position on two passed balls and an overthrow trying to snag a runner.
Waverly’s 3-0 opening-inning lead, generated by six straight Shockers to reach base including a Diack RBI-double to score Fike for the third run, was short-lived.
In the second, Queen led off by being hit by a pitch, Hutchinson helped his cause with a single, and both runners advanced a base on a passed ball.
Picklesimer singled in Queen, followed by Watkins with a sacrifice fly to score Hutchinson.
In the third, the first five boys in Blue against Fike reached base, with Tipton, Aodhan Queen and Hutchinson all singling — including Hutchinson’s infield comebacker right at Fike.
Salyers smacked a double, driving in the two Queens.
The Shockers tied it at 4-4 in the third —when Ben Nichols and Diack singled with one out, and Hutchinson walked Quinton Hurd for the second time in as many at-bats.
Garrett Moore scored Nichols when he hit into a fielder’s choice, as that 4-4 deadlock remained over the next nine innings.
But Miller said the tide turned when Hutchinson settled down for the three first-inning outs, of which he struck out Moore —then got Tanner Nichols to ground into a rare 1-2-3 double play.
“That was definitely a momentum switch,” he said. “We got those outs, and offensively, I just said to chip away at them (Shockers). Don’t go up there trying to hit a three-run homer. We didn’t have many strikeouts, put the ball in play a lot, and made contact all day.”
Hutchinson had his game going from there — retiring the Shockers 1-2-3 in the second and fourth and facing the minimum three in the sixth — as Tipton then took the baton.
The West right-hander sat the Shockers down 1-2-3 in the eighth and ninth — and faced four hitters apiece in the 10th, 12th and finally 13th.
“Both Landon (Hutchinson ) and Jakob (Tipton) threw the ball very well. It was a rough first inning for Landon, as he was just elevating the ball and getting it up and they were squaring it up. After that, he shut them down for the next six innings. Defensively, outfielders tracked the ball and infielders fielded the ball well and made good throws,” said Miller. “As long as we keep the ball in front of us and make the plays, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
And, the Blue Jay Juniors have been best described by Miller as always fighting back.
“We’ve been resilient all year. It’s not a situation that we’re not accustomed to. We’re 17-6 now, and of those 23 games, we’ve probably trailed in up to 18 of those. These kids are very resilient,” he said.
Now, following Thursday’s matinee marathon, they will need to answer the lunch bell again on Friday.
First pitch against the Colts is set for 1 p.m. —as Miller expects Picklesimer to start.
A win would advance Post 23 to Saturday’s noontime championship game, which Portsmouth perceives as a realistic goal.
“The kids are really dialed in, and they think the region is theirs to lose,” said Miller. “I think we’ll come out with another good effort tomorrow.”
* * *
Portsmouth 022 000 000 000 1 — 5 14 1
Waverly 301 000 000 000 0 — 4 11 4
Post 23: Landon Hutchinson 7IP, 4R, 3ER, 9H, 0HB, 3BB, 1IBB, 7K, 33BF; Jakob Tipton 6IP, 0R, 0ER, 2H, 0HB, 4BB, 0IBB, 7K, 23BF
Post 142: Trevor Fike 7IP, 4R, 3ER, 7H, 2HB, 1BB, 0IBB, 5K, 30BF; Malik Diack 6IP, 1R, 1ER, 7H, 0HB, 2BB, 1IBB, 4K, 28BF
W — Jakob Tipton ; L — Malik Diack
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