Portland Spikes American Legion Post 75 swept a double header against Mt. Juliet Legion Post 281 on Saturday, July 13. The Spikes won the first game 11-3 and the second contest 2-0.
Mason Elliott pitched a complete game in the opener, allowing three runs on three hits. He also struck out six batters, walked four and hit two.
“Mason pitched a good game – by far his best game of the season,” coach John Thayer said. “He had control issues from time to time but gathered himself each time and found his groove. When he hits his spots, he is a really effective pitcher.”
At the plate, the Spikes opened the top of the first inning with Elliott, Braxton Cole and Caeson Utley drawing walks. Connor Simmons followed with a sac fly to left field to score Cole, and Braxton Taylor added a bases-clearing double to give the Spikes a 3-1 lead heading into the second inning.
Simmons started the Spikes off in the bottom of the third with a single. Taylor was then hit by a pitch, Cade Box doubled to the right center gap to score Simmons. Centerfielder Ryan Brown reached scoring Taylor. Tyler Dillard then walked, and Estrada singled in Brown. Cole was then hit by a pitch, and Elliott, Utley and Simmons all singled to push the Spikes lead to 11-3.
“Everyone came focused and ready to play,” Thayer said. “This season it has been difficult to get into the groove with the rain as well as the extracurricular activities some of the players are doing. It is tough for the athletes to balance all that’s expected from them physically and mentally, as well as focus on summer baseball.”
The Spikes completed the sweep of Post 281 with a 2-0 victory later in the day. Cole, Simmons and Elliott all singled, and Elliot and Taylor doubled. Tyler “Tater” Dillard picked up the win on the mound. He didn’t allow a run and scattered two hits and one walk with five strikeouts.
“Tater pitched a great game,” Thayer said. “He was consistent from the start. He has a good mound presence and keeps runners off balance when they get on base. He stayed ahead on the count, which is huge. In both games, we hit the ball very well and ran the bases aggressively. Defensively, we made all the routine plays and a couple great plays as well.
“This group has really come together as a team. They have bought into the Spikes way of playing the game of baseball and truly care for and pick each other up.”
This is the second season the Spikes have been played American Legion baseball. Portland initially ended its summer baseball program for high school players in 2011, a season after winning the Dixie Boys state tournament. But Portland High School coach Justin Martin and middle school coach Aaron Whitten, a former Spike and Tennessee Tech player, agreed that the program should be brought back to strengthen the Portland baseball pipeline.
“A good summer program is critical when trying to build a successful high school program,” Thayer said. “Aaron and I decided on American Legion because of its long history of fielding highly-competitive teams.
“The local Legion Post 75 was all in when we approached them about the idea. They have been very supportive. We appreciate everything they do for us.”
Unlike other American Legion teams, the Spikes only draw from one place: Portland High School.
“That leaves us with the second smallest base of players to pull from in the state,” Thayer said. “We wouldn’t have it (any) other way. Our goal is to help PHS baseball get better.”
Former Spikes Chris Wix and Mason Collins help Thayer and Whitten coach the team. The late Jake DiNovo was also an assistant before he passed away earlier this month.
“All of these coaches give their time without asking anything in return,” Thayer said, “They are great young men that have played for me in the past and understand what being a Spike means. I am proud to work with them. They do a great job and connect with the players very well.”