Positives seen in CHS baseball Hornets’ 2021 debut defeat

Lost 7-5 Friday to 2-times defending league champ Savannah

As reported to C-T

SAVANNAH — In their first game in 22 months, Chillicothe High School's baseball Hornets were close to victory in multiple ways in last Friday’s 2021 season-opening 7-5 defeat at Savannah. In the short term, that’s reason for optimism and hope, although, in the long term, it still will stand ever-more-firmly as a loss and not much more.

The host Savages, traditionally salty on the diamond as attested by their being the 2-times defending Midland Empire Conference champions in baseball, scored in only two innings of last Friday’s sun-splashed, but cool-ish, home contest. Each time, Chillicothe stood one out away from forcing SHS to hang a zero on the scoreboard that frame. In one case, a pair of errors led to three unearned runs, enough to spell the difference in the final score.

Additionally, the Hornets conversely started their season by coming away empty-handed from a bases-full, none-out threat in the first half-inning and then ended the game hitting into a double play with the bases full and the potential tying run in scoring position.

Still, new CHS head coach Joshua Lisle acknowledged, there were positives in his first game as Hornets head coach.

“If we eliminate some of those errors and finish innings when we get two outs, we will be just fine,” he reflected for the C-T.

On offense, aside from the two missed golden scoring chances, the Hornets’ 8-6 advantage in hits was welcome.

“I felt our guys had good at-bats all game,” Lisle praised. “They saw a ton of pitches and put the ball in play consistently.”

The Hornets used a run in the fourth inning and three in the top of the fifth to overcome a 3-0 deficit at Savannah, but did not protect that 4-3 lead, allowing the four 2-outs SHS tallies in the bottom of the sixth to fall.

Chillicothe gave itself a chance to notch a confidence-building victory, but didn't quite pull it off, in part because of leaky defense.

After 2-1/2 scoreless innings at the start, the host Savages plated three runs off starting and losing pitcher Mason Baxter in the bottom of the third inning.

With two outs and a runner at first base, Savannah hit a fly ball to center field that was not caught as the CHS flyhawk battled the sun. What was ruled an error allowed the runner from first to score and the batter to reach second. A walk and a bases-filing single to left field was followed by an infield error and a run-scoring base on balls.

Chillicothe responded with its initial 2021 tally in the next half-inning, although it could have scored more.

A leadoff free pass to shortstop and No. 3 batter Gage Leamer and the junior’s stolen base had him at second base with no outs when cleanup hitter Brock Ward singled to center field. Although down by three, Leamer attempted to score and was cut down as Ward took second base.

After the next Hornet fanned, Ward tried to steal third on a 1-0 pitch to Max Wagers and not only did so, but scored when the throw went wild.

After Baxter worked a trouble-free fourth, Chillicothe pushed three runs across in the visitors' fifth to go in front, 4-3.

Sophomore first baseman Landon Winder delivered the only hit a CHS batter below cleanup produced, a leadoff infield single toward third base.

As SHS relief pitcher Aiden Leopard, in his second inning, worked to Tucker Wagers, he committed a balk, advancing Winder to second base, where he stayed while T. Wagers whiffed and leadoff hitter Griff Bonderer coaxed a 5-pitches walk.

On a 0-1 pitch to Baxter, the baserunners pulled a double-steal, leaving both men in scoring position with Bonderer representing the tying run. Three pitches later, the senior pitcher-infielder stroked a basehit to center field – his second of the game to score both men and tie things at 3-3.

Baxter stole second, then moved to third on Ward’s 2-outs single to left. With Brock Miller at the dish, on a 1-1 pitch, Ruger Cox, courtesy-running for Ward, broke for second base and drew a throw from the catcher. When that throw was made, Baxter dashed for home and neither Hornet was retired, the successful double-steal giving Chillicothe its first lead of the season, 4-3. Although Miller then walked, he and Cox were stranded, keeping the Hornets’ lead at one.

Baxter preserved that through the bottom of the fifth, but Savannah broke through again in its sixth, knocking out Baxter with four runs to reclaim the upper hand.

When the CHS hurler fielded a tap in front of the mound and threw to first for the second out of the inning as a Savage moved from first to second, the visitors stood only four outs away from victory, although with the heart of the SHS lineup awaiting. Baxter never got that third out.

A single to right-center field by Ty Hilsabeck on a 2-1 pitch knotted things at 4-4 with the batter taking second base on the CHS throw home. That allowed Leopard’s hit, also to right-center, to second Hilsback home with the leading run.

A single by Ashton Kincaid ended Baxter’s hill tenure with sophomore Bonderer coming in from left field. On the first pitch he threw, Dayton Howard bombed a 2-runs double to deep left, upping the margin to 7-4.

Down three in the top of the seventh, Chillicothe made things plenty intriguing before succumbing.

With Savannah’s third pitcher of the game beginning his second inning, Bonderer legged out a leadoff single on a tap to the left side and Baxter waited out a walk on a 3-2 offering.

After a tap to second advanced both runners as the first out was recorded, Ward pulled a single into left field, plating the fifth CHS run and putting the potential tying run aboard. When Miller drew a base on balls on five pitches, that tying runner was in scoring position with one out. On a wild play, however, the game ended with no more scoring.

According to Lisle, M. Wagers lofted a little pop fly between home plate and the mound, a bit to the first-base side. When pitcher Parker Brayley dove to try to catch it, he could not hold onto the ball, but got a break when the ball caromed only a short distance away and toward home plate.

With the CHS runners having to stay close to their bases, in case of a catch, the catcher was able to grab the rolling ball and scamper back to home plate for a forceout on Baxter. He then threw to the third baseman, who the field umpire ruled caught the ball and touched the bag as the runner from second tried to scramble there after the popup fell uncaught. Lisle protested that the third baseman had neither touched third base while having the ball nor tagged the approaching runner from second base to earn the forceout, but his appeal of the call was not upheld.

Instead, a game Chillicothe might have tied with one swing of the bat instead ended on one swing and the resulting chaos.

Statistically, both teams' run production was largely the result of the top five in their respective batting orders. The bottom four of each teams’ lineup were a composite one for 12.

For CHS, leadoff man Bonderer went two for three plus a walk and two runs scored in his high school debut, No. 2 hitter Baxter was two for three plus a walk, as well, with two runs driven in and one scored, and cleanup man Brock Ward went three for four with a run scored and one batted in.

As coach Lisle alluded in his comment on the offense, Chillicothe did a good job of forcing Savannah pitchers to make lots of deliveries (155 total) and drew seven bases on balls. However, they also fanned 11 times.

Savannah had Howard stroke two hits and drive in its final two runs. The Savages waited out only three bases on balls  all from Baxter, but were hit by three pitches, as well.

On the mound, Baxter (0-1) surrendered on five hits in his 5-2/3 innings, fanning six. All of Savannah's runs were charged to the CHS starter with four earned. The Hornets committed three errors to only one by the Savages.

The victory was credited to reliever Leopard. Savages starter Hilsabeck worked three shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out four.

Next on the baseball Hornets' schedule was a Monday (March 22) non-conference game at Lawson. They then were to visit Richmond Tuesday and Trenton Thursday.