Highland ends Post 27 season — again

PLYMOUTH — Plymouth Post 27 got another crack at the team that eliminated it from sectional play. Unfortunately for the Diamond Spyders, it was deja vu all over again in the regional tournament.
After succumbing to Highland Post 180 not once but twice in sectional play the week before, Plymouth was given new life in the American Legion state baseball tournament when Richmond Post 65 was forced to withdraw from the regional field Wednesday. The reprisal-minded Spyders got another go at Highland in the losers bracket of the regional tourney Saturday morning at Bill Nixon field, but they struggled to capitalize with runners on base, falling 6-3 to end their season a second time. Post 180 went on to fall 12-11 to Kokomo Post 6 in the second eliminator Saturday.
“It’s the same thing — they get runners on in scoring position, and they’ve got kids that step up and get some hits,” said Post 27 coach Will Hostrawser. “We’ve had that struggle pretty much all year where we get kids on base and for whatever reason we have trouble getting them around the bases. That’s pretty much the difference in the ballgame right there is those kids on their side do a good job putting the ball in play when they needed to… and you’ve got to give them credit for that.”
All total, Post 27 left 11 baserunners stranded in Saturday’s loss. Highland starter Sean McCarthy, working mainly off his curveball, struggled somewhat with his command, giving up nine walks and hitting another two batters in eight innings before southpaw Dan Hamilton came in to close the door in the bottom of the ninth. Along with those bases on balls, Plymouth batters racked up seven hits but weren’t able to string enough together to capitalize on most of their opportunities. McCarthy fanned eight, including two who went down looking at called third strikes.
“I think overall this summer, this has been one of those ball clubs that has struggled at the plate. Any time you throw anything offspeed, a lot of time you like taking that to the opposite field. Well, we have trouble just hitting straight stuff where it’s pitched,” said Hostrawser. “I’ve got to give (McCarthy) credit. He is one of the pitchers that throws a lot of offspeed pitches for his strikeout pitch, and we haven’t seen a lot of that this year. A lot of guys will locate a fastball or throw a straight change, but he did a good job. I can remember a few batters that he struck out just throwing three straight hooks, and we just didn’t make an adjustment. “
After a four-run top of the third by Highland, Post 27 was playing catch-up all day. The Spyders scored two runs answering back in the bottom of the third to cut their early deficit in half, then scored another run in the fifth to pull within one at 4-3, but Post 180 plated two in the visitors’ final at-bat to bring the score to its final margin.
John Pitsas led off the inning with a double all the way to the left field fence, Kevin Roach’s intended sacrifice bunt turned into a base hit when it landed in no-man’s land between third and the pitcher’s mound, Jeremy O’Donnell’s pulled one to left to score Pitsas, and, after O’Donnell moved to third on an attempted sacrifice squeeze by Tyler Fraley, McCarthy helped himself out with a one-out sacrifice fly to center.
Suddenly trailing by three runs, Post 27 was unable to mount much of a rally in the bottom half of the ninth.
Tanner Hampton drew a leadoff walk before Hamilton was brought in to relieve McCarthy, but he was thrown out heading to second on the next at-bat when Kyle Liedtky’s chopper to third turned into a 5-4-3 double play. Plymouth pitcher Clayton Adamson’s own chopper was knocked down by diving Highland first baseman Pitsas, and he recovered in time to throw to Hamilton covering first for the game’s final out.
“It does change your thinking a little bit,” said Hostrawser of Highland’s two-run ninth. “They hit that fly ball out to Shay (Hepler), and he had trouble getting it in and gave them the extra base, and then they did a good job getting them around. They had a good sacrifice bunt there that ended up being a hit, and when that stuff happens you just have to make adjustments. Late in the ballgame when you hang one on, that’s pretty devastating. Two, that’s almost terminal. But I’ve got to give them credit, they got it done. The better hitting ball club won.”
Highland opened the scoring with four runs in the top of the third as O’Donnell and Tyler Fraley recorded back-to-back singles in the eight and nine spots in the 180 lineup, and McCarthy moved them both into scoring position laying down a sac bunt. Hamilton coaxed a walk to load the bases, and Scott Shaner’s long single to the centerfield fence scored both O’Donnell and Fraley. Alejandro Kinney moved him up with a single through the gap at third, Mike Muller scored Hamilton with a sacrifice fly to center, and Pitsas brought Hamilton home with a liner through the left side of the infield to stake Highland to a 4-0 lead.
After leaving three on in the first two frames, Plymouth finally broke through in the bottom of the third.
Hepler singled on a bunt, Hampton was hit by a pitch with one out, and both moved up on a wild pitch to set the table for Liedtky, whose liner through the gap at second cut Plymouth’s deficit to 4-2. Adamson drew a walk with one out, but Tyler LaFollete flew out to shallow center and McCarthy outlasted Jared Lemler on a seven-pitch at-bat, striking out the Post 27 7-hole hitter to staunch the bleeding.
Adamson and the Spyders kept the deficit at two runs until the home team scored again in the fifth when Hampton singled into shallow right, stole second and took third on a wild pitch, and Liedtky recorded his third RBI of the night with a liner into right.
But despite putting seven more runners on base over the next four innings, Plymouth would get no closer. Hepler was thrown out trying to steal second, and Jason Ferguson got caught in a rundown leading off second for the final two outs in the eighth, and Hampton’s leadoff walk was wasted by a double play in the bottom of the ninth.
For his part, Adamson put in a gutsy performance on the mound for Plymouth, giving up one walk with one strikeout and 12 hits throwing 120 pitches going the full nine innings for the Spyders. In the end, Highland was able to string just enough together to pull out the win and end Post 27’s season a second time.
“I thought Clayton threw a whale of a game,” Hostrawser said. “He’s a competitor. He didn’t want to come out. I thought he did a good job late throwing strikes. A lot of times when guys get tired they start throwing up in the zone, and he made a few adjustments and left it out on the field. It’s just a shame it was wasted.”
It wasn’t the result the Spyders wanted, but Hostrawser remained positive after Saturday’s loss, focusing less on the wins and losses than on the bonds his players had formed over the Post 27 program’s 13th season.
“Overall, the special thing about these teams is you’re grabbing a bunch of guys from a bunch of different schools, and they’re getting to know one another on a competitive level playing with each other on a team and buying into a cause trying to win ball games as a unit,” said the Spyders skipper. “That bond never really goes away, and if you look back at our history in our program, that’s one of the most special things. We’ve got guys from all the different schools that hang out together; you’ll see them from time to time come to our games. They Facebook one another, just all that good stuff. They’re making friendships that’ll last a lifetime, and I’m happy to be a part of that.”
At Bill Nixon Field
Highland: 004 000 002 — 6 12 1
Plymouth: 002 010 000 — 3 7 2
Sean McCarthy (W), Dan Hamilton (9); Clayton Adamson (L).
2B: Hamilton (H), John Pitsas (H).