Aiken Post 26's four-run third inning was more than enough for starting pitcher Austin O'Shields in Monday night's Junior American Legion baseball playoff opener. O'Shields tossed a two-hit shutout, keeping Clover Post 38 off balance all night in a 5-0 Aiken victory.
“It's always good to get the first one in the book,” said Aiken head coach Richard Abney, whose team took the first game of the best-of-three playoff series. “You don't want to let a team like that hang around … but a win's a win. We'll take it.”
O'Shields twirled a gem on the mound, holding Clover hitless until AJ Nicholas reached on an infield single with one out in the top of the fifth inning.
Aiken's defense responded quickly, erasing Nicholas from the base paths as he attempted to advance to second.
By that point, Aiken had already built an insurmountable lead. Five singles and a pair of stolen bases highlighted the four-run third, giving O'Shields enough cushion to go the distance and preserve Aiken's bullpen.
“Austin's a good pitcher, and a good presence on the mound,” Abney said. “We were glad he was able to go the whole game and test his arm strength a little bit.”
O'Shields showed that strength late, striking out the game's final three batters to give him nine total punch-outs on the night. The complete game performance also gave Aiken a chance to save the rest of its pitching staff for the next game and beyond.
Aiken wasted little time executing its small-ball game plan to perfection, with shortstop Connor Howell leading off the game with a bunt single. He later stole second base and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by O'Shields, but Clover starting pitcher Justin Adams escaped a based-loaded jam without surrendering a run.
O'Shields faced no similar difficulties, retiring Clover's first seven batters before walking Jackson McDowell. McDowell never made it past first base, though, as a strikeout and a fielder's choice ended the top half of the third inning.
Eight different players recorded hits Monday night, to go along with four walks and a hit by pitch. Once they reached base, the hitters took turn terrorizing the defense; eight stolen bases kept the carousel rolling for Aiken, forcing Clover into tough situations throughout the game.
No situation was tougher than in the bottom of the third. The first six batters reached base, chasing Adams from the mound in favor of McDowell.
Aiken tallied its fifth and final run in the bottom of the fifth when Nick Grover came around to score after reaching on an error and stealing two bases.
The two teams will resume their best-of-three series on Wednesday night at Clover. As both teams experienced significant layoffs prior to Monday's game, Abney expects to see different performances the next time they hit the diamond.
“Both teams were a little rusty,” he said. “I expect a little different game on Wednesday. The bats will probably be a little bit more active and the game will be a little bit faster.”
First pitch Wednesday is set for 7:30 p.m.
CLOVER 000 000 0XX—0
AIKEN 004 010 0XX—5
W – Austin O'Shields
L – Justin Adams
Austin O' Shields of Aiken Post 26 pitched a great game against Clover in the 1st game of the Junior American Legion Baseball Playoffs. Mike Adams photo.×
Staff Photo by Mike Adams Austin O’ Shields of Aiken Post 26 heads to 3rd base in Monday nights game against Clover in the 1st game of the Junior American Legion Baseball Playoffs.×