Portland?Rockets pitcher Peyton Smith screams in celebration after recording his game-ending strikeout in the Rockets’ 3-2 win over the South Bend Royals in their opening game of the National Amateur Baseball?Federation regional tournament on?Thursday night at Carrington?Field in Fort Wayne.?Smith finished with eight strikeouts. (The Commercial Review/Chris Schanz)
Portland?Rockets pitcher Peyton Smith screams in celebration after recording his game-ending strikeout in the Rockets’ 3-2 win over the South Bend Royals in their opening game of the National Amateur Baseball?Federation regional tournament on?Thursday night at Carrington?Field in Fort Wayne.?Smith finished with eight strikeouts. (The Commercial Review/Chris Schanz)
FORT WAYNE — Facing bases loaded in the fourth inning, Peyton Smith got out of the jam with a strikeout.

One frame later, he again found Royals packing the bases, but weaseled his way out of trouble with another strikeout and a diving catch by Chris Krystofiak.

In the seventh, with the Rockets clinging to a one-run lead with the potential game-tying run in scoring position, Smith came through for the third time.

Back-to-back strikeouts shut the door on the South Bend Royals as Smith and the Portland Rockets opened National Amateur Baseball Federation regional play with a 3-2 victory Thursday night at Carrington Field.

“Trust your stuff,” Smith said of how he was able to get out of all three sticky situations. “When you’re attacking guys, when you’ve got a good pace — keeping it under 10 seconds (between pitches) — it’s hard to hit because you feel like you’re getting suffocated by pitches.

“I know I hate it as a hitter. I just tried to keep my pace up, trust my stuff and stay in the strike zone. Just try to throw it by them even though I don’t have throw-it-by-them stuff.”

The Fort Wayne Jackers topped the Fort Wayne Blues 10-3 earlier Thursday to open the four-team, round-robin tournament. The regional winner will be determined by overall record. Tie-breaking criteria is head-to-head record, runs allowed and runs scored.

“I think tournament play defines us,” said Portland Rockets manager Randy Miller, whose team moved to 8-20, snapped a seven-game losing streak and continues play at 5:30 p.m. tonight against the Blues. “We’ve played more games than anyone in this tournament and the guys came through. That’s a big springboard for us.”

Trailing 3-1 in the fourth inning, South Bend put two on base with one out on a double and a single. Following a pop out to catcher Max Moser, Smith issued a six-pitch walk to load the bases before striking out Royal leadoff hitter Spencer Nelson to leave the bases juiced.

Chaz Bellman and Will Swisher hit consecutive singles for South Bend to begin the fifth, and Kevin Renn sacrificed himself with a bunt back to Smith to give the Royals another prime scoring chance.

A hit by pitch loaded the bases before Smith, a Daleville product, recorded his fourth strikeout and Krystofiak had his highlight-reel catch in shallow left center field.

South Bend closed the 3-1 gap, scoring a run on a walk and two errors in the bottom of the sixth. Then with the would-be tying run on second base in the home half of the seventh, the Goshen College junior fanned his seventh and eighth batters of the night to lock up the win.

“They battled,” Smith said of the Royals. “They made me work. They made me throw a lot of pitches. This is the first day maybe I’ve had all four (pitches) working and I think it worked in my favor because I could mix it up and keep them on their toes.”

Smith surrendered two runs — one earned — on six hits with eight strikeouts and four walks.

“Clutch performance,” Miller said of his winning pitcher. “He had some great biorhythms today. He pitched in traffic. Two big innings he had back-to-back bases loaded. He competed.

“We rode him like a borrowed mule. He just took it to the limit. Why would you take him out? He wanted it. It was his to get and he went and got it.”

Portland, which has recorded half of its wins against the Royals, got all of its scoring in the top of the third inning.

Noah Collins and Cameron Pratt led off with singles, and Jared Holley knocked in Collins with a single to center. Zach Tanner singled, and one out later Smith knocked in Pratt with a single as well.

Jake Van Pelt — he’s slated as tonight’s starting pitcher against the Blues — followed with an RBI fielder’s choice.

Like the Royals, the Rockets left the bases full the fifth and sixth innings, failing to add to their narrow lead.

“We had to get some add-on runs and we just couldn’t get it done,” said Miller, whose team stranded 10 runners, one fewer than the Royals.

Pratt, Holley and Kristofiak had two singles apiece for the Rockets, who also got a double from Caleb Richardson. Moser contributed a single as well, as all but one spot in the lineup recorded at least one of the team’s 11 hits.

As regional play continues tonight, Portland will look to avenge a handful of losses against the Blues. The Rockets are 1-5 against them this year, including going 1-3 in a pair of doubleheaders last weekend.

“We owe them,” Miller said.