May 8—Pitch count matters now more than ever in high school baseball. So does pitching depth, and the coach with the deepest pockets in that respect stand a good shot at long-range playoff success. It also helps if you avoid the elimination bracket.
Porter ran low of one and smack dab into the other Friday at Oktaha in the Class 2A regional championship round and the host Tigers emerged with the state tournament ticket and the regional title, winning 11-1.
Pirates coach Jared Webster, having already used his three regular starters in Mason Plunk, Brandon Welch and Jackson Cole, decided to go with little-used Conner Lanye to start the first of potentially two championship games. Porter had to beat Oktaha (30-10) to gain the rubber match in the double-elimination affair, and Webster still had Blake Cole, who had 11 innings of work.
There would be no "if" game.
Lanye struggled from the get-go, giving up four runs without a hit, and Cole had to be summoned in the second inning, all cause for the brief 1-0 Pirates' advantage not lasting long.
"(Lanye) had thrown one start and right after that broke his hand and has been out ever since," Webster said. "I thought I'd try catching lightning in a bottle, but it didn't work out that way."
Oktaha's leadoff hitter, Mason Ledford, reached on an error, then Lanye issued consecutive walks to James Wilson and Tucker Christian. While Christian was still at bat, Ledford, who had stolen second and reached third on a passed ball, stole home.
Lanye hit Tyler Allen, and after Hunter Dearman hit into a double play, Brody Surmont was hit by a pitch and loaded the bases. Up came Gabe Hamilton, who drew a pass on four pitches to make it 2-1. Christian then scored on a wild pitch.
Oktaha put four more up in the second. Jakob Blackwell, who walked, moved to second on a fielder's choice by Kipton Christian, then took two more bases on passed balls. That ended Lanye's stay, After Wilson registered Oktaha's first hit to make it 5-0, Tucker Christian and Allen drew walks and Surmont doubled in a pair.
"I saw the kid warming up and I thought he'd come off-speed and thumb us," Oktaha coach Kevin Rodden said of Lanye. "Sometimes when you've seen fastballs, that works."
Alllen's two-out single in the fourth made it 8-1. Picked to start on the mound in the clincher, Allen allowed four hits and walked two, and survived Porter's biggest threat to make it a game again in the sixth.
Jackson Cole drew a leadoff walk, Cole Phillips singled to right and Kaleb Brewer singled to left, with Cole holding at third and no one out.
David Nunn struck out looking and Blake Cole grounded back to Allen, who threw home to Tucker Christian for the force, and Christian then went to Surmont at first for a double play and a dagger.
Oktaha would finish it promptly.
Kipton Christian walked, then Ledford doubled. Nunn came in to face Wilson, who reached on an error by Phillips at third, pushing Christian home. Tucker Christian's two-run double on the first pitch he saw from Nunn ended it on the run-rule.
No celebrating for Oktaha, winners of 19 of their last 20 and are 23-0 against 2A competition. The Tigers open state Thursday against either Calera or Morrison, who face off in a rubber game of their regional on Saturday.
"We kind of ho-hummed it, but like I told our kids, a lot of teams are dog-piling right now and frankly, our expectations go higher than this," Rodden said. "The kids have played low-key and they're also playing with a lot of confidence right now."
Brandon Welch, who got things started in Porter's first at-bat on a one-out single to center, gave the Pirates (22-18) their brief lead when he scored on Cole Phillips' groundout. Phillips, Jackson Cole and Nunn depart after this year, graduating on Friday night.
Porter reached the final by dispatching Stroud 9-2. It was 2-2 in the fourth when the Pirates posted six runs. Jackson Cole led the Pirates, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs, one in the fourth.
Blake Cole was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Brandon Welch had a two-run double. Blake Cole and Luke Brewer also singled in runs in the surge.
Jackson Cole allowed five hits over seven innings and struck out 13.
"We were second to Hartshorne in district, second to Oktaha in regionals and both are going to the state tournament," said Webster, in his first full season at Porter after COVID-19 wiped out most of last season. "Porter has had some flashes, but this is as good a team as they've had in a while and we got something to build on."