by Darrell Stephens
Rockport‘s remarkable run through the 2023 American Legion Baseball state tournament ended in disappointment last Tuesday when Lafayette Post 11 won two games to capture its first state title since 1993.
Rockport had won its first four games in the tournament, including a 2-0 decision over Lafayette in a game that will be remembered as one of the finest ever played in the 96-year history of the tournament.
Rockport’s Evan Bowling was the recipient of the A. D. Phillips Award, given annually to a player for his sportsmanship, academics, leadership and athletic ability. Bowling, a 2022 Heritage Hills graduate, will be a sophomore at Shawnee Community College in Ullin, Illinois this fall.
In the final winner’s bracket game of the tournament on Sunday, July 23 in Kokomo, Rockport left-hander Travis Kellems allowed only one hit while striking out eight as Post 254 remained the tournament’s only undefeated team.
The win also secured a berth in the championship game for Rockport.
Kellems allowed only a soft single to center in the fourth inning and that came with two outs after he had retired the first 11 Lafayette hitters of the game.
Kellems walked three and allowed only two base runners in one inning, the fourth when he walked a man after allowing the hit.
In the meantime, Rockport only managed a single hit off of Post 11 left-hander Corbin Payne, a John Logan College signee. Payne struck out 11 and walked six.
Evan Bowling’s first inning single was Rockport’s only hit but it was important as it gave Kellems a little wiggle room.
In that first, Jalen Johnson walked with one out and Bowling singled to the hole at short.
Both runners moved up on an errant pickoff attempt.
Johnson scored the first run of the game on a passed ball, and Bowling crossed the plate two pitches later on a wild pitch.
Kellems took over from that point and shut the door on Lafayette.
Rockport played errorless baseball in the game, as it did in five of its six games in the tournament.
Left-hander Elijah Brosmer continued Rockport’s pitching dominance in a complete game 8-1 win over Valparaiso Post 94 in a game played last Monday.
Brosmer scattered six hits, struck out five and walked four in the win.
Rockport scored twice in the first inning on RBI base hits from Ty Brown and Drew Lyday.
A three-run third gave Rockport a 5-0 lead and with Brosmer on the mound that was more than enough. In the inning, Ty Brown’s home run to left scored Travis Kellems who had led off the inning with a base hit.
Evan Bowling had three hits to lead Rockport. Brown and Lyday had two hits each. Brown also scored three and drove in three and added an RBI double to his two-run homer.
The Monday win kept Rockport undefeated and set up a showdown with Lafayette on Tuesday.
Rockport 2 (8 innings)
With Rockport playing for the state championship and Lafayette playing to stay alive, the two teams played a game that, for 7 2/3 innings was every bit as intense and competitive as the one they had played just two days earlier.
Through seven innings, the squads were tied at 1-1 but Rockport had managed only two hits.
Lafayette took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second but despite its lack of offense, Rockport was able to even the count in the home fourth on two strikeouts and Ty Brown’s blazing speed.
Brown struck out to start the inning but reached first when he outran the Lafayette catcher’s throw to first after he didn’t catch the ball clean on the strikeout.
Brown moved to second when Evan Bowling walked and to third on Ashton Tindle’s sacrifice bunt that also moved Bowling to second.
Brown scored when Drew Lyday struck out and the catcher again had to throw to first. Brown timed his run perfectly and didn’t even draw a return throw from first as he crossed the plate.
The game and the state championship started to get away from Rockport with two outs and nobody on in the top of the eighth.
Lafayette proceeded to string together four consecutive hits, plating three runs to take a 4-1 lead.
Rockport got a solo home run to right from Travis Kellems in the bottom of the eighth but it wasn’t enough.
Rockport started the winner-take-all game with a bang, scoring four runs in the top of the first but it was a last gasp of life for Post 254.
Ty Brown singled, Evan Bowling walked and Ashton Tindle doubled them both in for a 2-0 lead. Drew Lyday’s single scored Tindle with Seth Deom’s base hit driving in Lyday.
Rockport would manage only two hits the rest of the way while Lafayette would collect 16 on its way to a 13-4 win.
Rockport finished the season 19-10 after an 8-7 start.
Lafayette, a serious threat to earn a trip to Shelby, NC and the American legion World Series, improved to 27-6. Post 11 will open play in the Great Lakes Regional at Midland, MI today (Wednesday).
Photos by Sierra Bruggeman