The Portland Spikes 17u baseball team defeated host Mt Juliet/Gallatin Patriots two-out-of-three games, winning the Dixie Pre-Majors Tennessee State Tournament, Monday, July 13-14.
In game one with one out in the top of the first, Caeson Utley got things started for the Spikes with a single, followed by a Mason Elliot single. Utley and Elliott both stole one base, putting runners on second and third. Caleb Butner followed with a walk and Utley was thrown out at the plate on a fielder’s choice. Elliott scored on a wild pitch but Braxton Taylor walked but was left stranded.
Trailing 2-1 heading into the third inning, Utley and Elliott both singled to get on base. Butner’s sac bunt attempt was misplayed, loading the base for Portland. Newton drew a walk plating Utley and Hunter Richards doubled to plate Elliott. Jake Ausbrooks’ ground out scored Butner to give the Spikes a 4-2 advantage.
Chase Runyon doubled to open the fourth, stole third base and scored after initially reaching on an error.
Heading into the sixth inning, Runyon walked and Utley singled - his third hit of the game. Elliott doubled in Runyon, Butner walked and Newton’s sacrifice fly to right field plated Utley to close out the inning 7-4 Portland.
Jake Ausbrooks picked up the win pitching 3 1/3 innings allowing no runs on two hits, two strikeouts and one walk. Newton picked up the save allowing two runs on one hit, two walks, one hit batter and two strikeouts.
“ I am proud of our efforts”, Spikes Head Coach John Thayer said, “We struggled on the mound early, but Jake came in and calmed everything down. He (Newton) was rolling along and could have pitched a complete game, but he is our closer and we wanted to keep his pitch count down for the next game. Luke struggled at first which was my fault as he did not have enough time to get loose. That is a tough thing when using everyday players as pitchers, getting them the throws needed to be ready when the game is in progress. He did a great job of keeping his composure until he found his groove. I am proud of him. He is a fighter. All these young men are fighters, they never give up and keep pounding away. They know there are a lot of ups and downs during the game and keep each other up.”
When asked how he felt coming into game one Caeson Utley responded: “I was really loose and confident, we had a great practice that Saturday before the State Tournament and as a team I felt we were ready to play some ball.”
When asked about his three-singles Utley added: “It felt great, I was finding holes in the defense for really the first time this summer and overall, it helped me gain confidence while at the plate.”
Portland dropped game two, 11-1.
“We came out flat”, said coach Thayer. “Once we got behind and did not seem to be able to pull it together, we had to start thinking about the game on Tuesday night and save our arms. Caleb Butner did an outstanding job hanging in and trying to get us through the game. He has not pitched much at all this season and we needed him to badly take the brunt of the workload. He really picked up the team in doing so.”
Tuesday night’s state championship came down to a winner take all game three. Portland defeated the Patriots 5-0 as Tyler “Tater” Dillard pitched a complete game, one hit shutout. He fanned five batters, walked one and hit one batter.
“Tater totally dominated them,” Thayer said. “He came into the game focused and ready to pitch us to a state championship. I can’t say enough about how well he pitched tonight. He wanted the ball and did a great job. Coach Whitten called a great game and Mason (Elliot) did a great job behind the plate.
When asked how he felt before the game Dillard said: “Once I knew I was going to start I knew that in order to have a shot at winning I had to keep the number of walks down and throw strikes and just trust my defense behind me.”
“This is priceless, I am so glad that I was part of a great team and we all had our jobs to do to put together a win,” Dillard continued after the win. “At one time I did (think we were going to win) but I had to put that in the back of my head and keep going to insure we would win.”
Offensively, Newton reached on an error to start the bottom of the second inning. Dillard was called on to move Newton over with a sac bunt, but the ball was perfectly placed, allowing him to reach base on a bunt single. Hunter Richards then doubled in Newton.
Utley reached on an infield hit, Elliott walked and Butner moved runners over on a fielder’s choice. Newton hit a sac fly to right field that plated Utley.
Newton opened the bottom of the sixth with a single, Dillard walked; Braden Thornton was put in to run for Dillard. Richards followed with a walk to load the bases and Owen Carroll was put in to run for Richards. With the infield in, Vinny Larner was called on to pitch hit. He hit a grounder to the second baseman whose throw to home sailed to the left of the catcher allowing Newton to score. Thornton also scored on the play with some ‘heads up’ running, seeing the ball take a strange bounce off the wall. Runyon’s fielder’s choice scored Carroll to close out the scoring giving the Spikes the 5-0 victory.
Coach Thayer stated: “Defensively we only made two errors, one was a lack of communication that was quickly worked out. At the plate we did what we needed to do, moving runners over when called upon is huge and we did that almost perfectly. Vinny came in in a very tough spot and made contact which made them have to make a play that turned in our favor. Braden made a great read on the ball that bounced off the wall. He read that on his own. Chase did a great job on his last at bat making sure he got that fifth run home. These young men deserve this. They worked very hard and bought into the Spikes way of playing ball. The last two weeks we started to push harder and try to get some grit in our game. Then we let off the pedal once the tournament started and relaxed and they responded perfectly. I love coaching them as well as coaching with Aaron.”
Newton was asked what his thoughts were before the game: “I knew we were going to win the game, I was confident in our guys to get it done and confident in myself to what my team needed me to do.”
When Elliott was asked about his thoughts of winning the state championship and earning a berth in the World Series he stated: “I think it’s a great accomplishment and very exciting. We don’t need to let up, we need to relax and play as hard as we can and try to win the World Series.”
The Dixie Pre-Majors World Series starts Friday July 24 in Guntersville, Alabama. The Spikes first game is Saturday July 25at 11:30am vs Texas.
“I want them to have a good time and relax and have fun first and foremost. Then see if we can win this thing. It is a nice reward and possibly a once in a lifetime experience for all the hard work these players put in. This season obviously has been different than any we have seen with Covid-19. They kept a great attitude and did what they needed to do,”stated Coach Thayer.