PORTSMOUTH — Sometimes, you have to learn to walk before you can run.
But most times in baseball, especially for younger players, walking leads to runs scored.
Case in point on Tuesday for the Portsmouth Post 23 Junior team, which took advantage of seven total walks with two hit batsmen — as Post 23 captured a 5-1 league victory over Hillsboro at Portsmouth High School’s Hatcher Field.
And, with both teams tallying just two hits and limiting their errors to only two, it was a rather clean and quick contest on a sunny evening in Portsmouth — completed in exactly two hours.
Tuesday’s tilt was the first home bout for the Juniors, as all but two players on their roster will be sophomores or juniors on next season’s high school squads.
Post 23’s young unit improved to 2-3, having been swept in a season-opening doubleheader on Saturday at Lancaster prior to splitting at Chillicothe’s 757 Juniors on Sunday.
On Tuesday, as Post 23’s foursome of pitchers combined to allow just two hits and three free passes and no earned runs with 11 strikeouts — the Juniors’ first four runs were the direct result of freebies.
They scored three runs in the opening inning —combining three walks with one hit batsman, along with Kaleb Seals’ sacrifice fly and a throwing error.
In the third, Isaiah Kelly (walk) and Jacob Sloan (hit batter) reached base again via the free pass and Sheets singled to center — as Ironton St. Joseph’s Blake Stuntebeck blooped a single into shallow right field, crossing Sloan and Sheets for the 5-0 lead.
Interestingly enough, those would be Post 23’s only hits for the entire game —despite several balls put into the field of play and only one strikeout.
However, patience is virtue —as Post 23 coach Josh McGraw said dish “discipline” made all the difference.
“We were disciplined at the plate, and that was one thing we talked about with their starting pitcher struggling,” said the coach. “We went up there today with a little more discipline than what we have been showing and drew some walks. You would like to see more basehits, but truthfully in coaching, walks are just as good. We did have some guys get on base tonight.”
In both of Post 23’s scoring stanzas, the first four batters reached base.
As it turned out, the hosts amounted all the runs they needed for the win in the first frame.
Brock Kitchen (walk), Caeleb McGraw (hit batter), Kelly (walk) and Sloan (walk) led off by reaching in a row, as Sloan’s walk brought in Kitchen.
Sheets’ sac fly to center scored McGraw, then an E-6 off the bat of Stuntebeck allowed Kelly to race around.
Aside from the first, and the aforementioned third frame, Post 23’s only other baserunners were walks to Kitchen in the second and fourth, a Jacob Richardson walk in the sixth, and Sheets reaching on another throwing error in the fifth.
No worries, though, as Portsmouth’s pitching was “lights out”.
“That was awesome,” said Coach McGraw.
With the Juniors competing in a three-day, 10-team, guaranteed four-game tournament in Chillicothe this coming weekend, McGraw limited his first three hurlers on Tuesday to two innings apiece — as Michael Duncan tossed a 1-2-3 seventh.
Hillsboro went through its 10-man batting order only two-and-a-half times.
“We didn’t want to throw anybody more than two innings. That way, they are ready to go this weekend. That was the plan, and it worked out perfectly,” he said. “Fortunately, our four pitchers were on. They were throwing strikes and not walking many guys. We had a lot of strikeouts tonight (11). They mixed up pitches well with (catcher) Caeleb (McGraw) calling a good ballgame back there. Kept them off-balance. Our pitching was dominant tonight, and up until now, has been very good. We’re struggling a little bit with the bat and more so on defense with errors, but our pitching has been great for really every ballgame.”
Stuntebeck started and opened with a 1-2-3 inning, including two strikeouts, as he recorded two more Ks — sandwiched around Hillsboro’s only two hits of the entire game.
R.J. Taylor singled to lead off the second, but Stuntebeck teamed up with the first baseman Kitchen to nicely pick him off.
The Mavericks’ only other hit was an infield single two batters later by starting pitcher Ronnie Newton.
Daewin Spence pitched the next two innings and struck out three, as only an unearned run thanks to Post 23’s two errors in the fourth prevented the shutout.
Dakota Garaway scored the lone point for Hillsboro.
Vinnie Lonardo worked the fifth and sixth for Post 23, and after walking his first two Mavericks in the fifth, retired the next three — with a 6-4 fielders’ choice and back-to-back strikeouts.
Lonardo then walked Garaway with one out in the sixth, but he set down his final two with flyouts.
“They (Post 23 pitchers) are starting to get in shape. That’s the biggest thing about missing the high school season this year. Your arms aren’t in shape,” said McGraw. “I saw two different kids right there tonight in Blake (Stuntebeck) and Daewin (Spence). They were throwing fastballs right by guys. Blake started and looked more fluid and pitched with ease. If he was able to go five (innings), I don’t think they would have scored on him at all, because he was mowing them down.”
The Juniors will now have two days of practice prior to this weekend’s tournament — the Kickoff Klassic in Chillicothe.
Improving the defense, McGraw said, will be a primary point of emphasis.
“We’re going to take a lot of groundballs and flyballs. The delicate part about summer ball is that you’re always playing and not getting a lot of practice. But these kids are showing up and doing a good job and working hard,” he said. “I think you will see a better team each day and in two weeks, we’ll start to gel a little bit.”
Indeed, and especially with younger baseball players, you have to learn to walk before you can run.
Post 23’s first game for Friday is set for 9 a.m., and against the host 757 Colts.