LANCASTER – Trent Mathias was not concerned as his team rode the roller coaster of emotions Wednesday.
The Lancaster Post 11 Juniors coach had seen his team rally before. Unfortunately, the Utica Post 92 Juniors were just a little bit better, rallying past and then holding off Lancaster 9-7 in a state tournament first-round game at Beavers Field.
“Usually, we go into the later innings trailing and we tend to make a comeback, so I wasn’t too worried when they came back,” Mathias said. “My guys got fight. They came out in the seventh and did what they are supposed to do: hit the ball. And unfortunately, they hit them right to them.”
Utica plays Athens Post 21 in the quarterfinals of the 16-team single-elimination tournament at 12:30 p.m. Friday. The four remaining first-round games are Thursday with Pickerington Post 283 playing Zanesville Post 29 at 5:30 p.m. to finish the day.
Post 11 scored six unanswered runs in the fourth and fifth innings to take a 6-2 lead, but a six-run top of the sixth for Post 92 proved to be the difference. Catcher David Haines had his third run-scoring hit to cut the deficit to 6-5 before Grant Porterfield grounded a double down the left-field line to give Utica the lead for good.
“I was so proud of them just to come back against an outstanding team,” Utica coach Greg Strouse said. “This is a funny game, and it just so happened the ball bounced our way. We got a couple breaks and a couple big hits.”
Lancaster pulled to within a run in the bottom of the sixth as Tyler Lanning walked, stole second, moved to third on Noah Martin’s single and scored on a balk. Right-hander Grant Foster, however, got the final two outs of the sixth on fly balls to center and then retired Lance Phillips on a pop-up to end the game in the seventh.
Noah Rossiter, who will be just a freshman this fall at Berne Union, kept Post 11 in the game early. The right-hander allowed single runs in the first and third innings, but he pitched out of a two-on, nobody-out jam in the fourth.
He then stranded two more runners in the fifth before retiring two of the first three batters in the sixth. Utica, however, received a walk from its No. 9 hitter before the top of the order sandwiched two seeing-eye singles around an infield hit.
“(Rossiter) did fantastic. I couldn’t ask for any better of a game,” Mathias said.
Post 11 made the most of its hits. Three walks and a fielder’s choice scored the first run before Garrett Strang hit the vacated hole between second and third bases on a hit and run to score courtesy runner Matthew Liegl. Two batters later, Lanning walked to give Post 11 the lead in the fourth inning.
In the fifth inning, a throwing error and a hit batter put two runners on base for Blake Porter, who doubled to the right-center gap. Two batters later, Robert Brendsel’s bid for extra bases was erased by Alex Strouse’s diving catch in right-center, but Porter did score on the sacrifice fly.
“The middle of the lineup has been awesome,” Mathias said. “They do the job. If you want it opposite field, they hit it opposite field. If you want a gap shot because we need to score guys late in the game, they get it done.”
Casey Costlow scored two runs; Lanning walked twice, stole a base and scored a run; and Brendsel had two RBIs. Costlow also struck out two in one inning of relief.
Post 11 had one of the youngest teams in the tournament, with only a couple players with varsity experience. Mathias expects lessons learned this summer will pay off handsomely in the future.
“They did fantastic this season, have no regrets,” Mathias said. “They got better. They are going to go out and play school ball and improve some more, and I hope to have them back next year.”