GALLATIN – The Portland Spikes Post 75 baseball team opened the American Legion Tennessee State tournament with an impressive 2-1 victory over Mt. Juliet Post 281 on July 18 at Municipal Park.
Strong pitching from both sides led to a tight contest. But the Spikes did just enough at the plate to escape with a win.
“Defensively, we played soundly,” Portland Spikes coach John Thayer said. “We didn’t hit the ball as well as we had been of late, but they kept battling until they made something happen.”
The Spikes were held hitless until the top of fourth inning when Connor Simmons singled and was left stranded.
Trailing 1-0 in the top of the sixth inning, Caeson Utley singled with one out and stole second base. Hunter Richards reached on an error, and Jake Ausbrooks entered to run for him. Simmons then walked to load the bases. Esteban Estrada hit an infield single to plate Utley.
Ausbrooks scored on the play due to a throwing error by the pitcher, giving the Spikes the runs they needed for a 2-1 victory.
Mason Elliott got the victory on the mound. He pitched 5.2 innings and allowed one run, five hits, and three walks while striking out five. Robbie Bradley shut the door to pick up a save.
“Mason pitched a great game, his best of the season,” Thayer said. “I am proud of the way that Mason came ready to pitch. He has a bright future if he keeps working hard.”
Spikes assistant Aaron Whitten agreed, saying that Elliot kept the Post 281 hitters off balance by mixing his pitches well.
“Mason did a great job of establishing his fastball while mixing in his curve,” Whitten said. “Later in the game he got his changeup working.”
Bradley picked up where Elliot left off in the sixth. Thayer said Bradley has been slowly worked into the closer role as he adjusted his arm slot to become a side-arm pitcher.
“It’s a hard slot to master, but he bought into trying it and has become very effective with it,” Thayer said. “It’s a great weapon to have since other teams haven’t seen that pitching style often. It also shows not only how good of a pitcher he is but also his overall athleticism.”
The Spikes were later eliminated from the tournament to end their season. The summer team was formed to improve the Portland High School baseball program, and Thayer said he believes the team accomplished its goal this season.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of this group of players,” he said. “They never stop trying to get better, they work hard at every practice and, most of all, they always pick each other up and have each other’s backs.
“They are what being a Spike is all about. Our philosophy is “Focus on the Process.” They are starting to understand what that entails.”