MINFORD — Winning on Senior Night is special enough.
However, winning in the fashion that Minford did on Tuesday evening shows why the Falcons have joined Wheelersburg as the No. 1 seeds in the Southeast I and II District Brackets.
After falling behind by a 3-0 tally within the first half-inning of play against Coal Grove, Minford — who started six underclassmen on Tuesday — showed the poise and grit that allowed the Falcons to obtain a No. 1 seed as Minford completely made up the deficit over the following half-inning and took a 6-3 lead by the end of the fourth inning en route to a 7-6 victory over a talented Coal Grove squad on Senior Night for Eric Cook, Matthew Gullett, Jacob McCaleb, and Ian Tolle.
So how did Minford pull off a three-run comeback in one half-inning? By staying true to the message that head coach Aaron Hopper has talked about over the balance of the year.
“We try to teach these guys, ‘What we can control, we can control,’” Hopper said. “After the ball leaves your hand, it is what it is, and you can’t do anything about it. It’s just about fixing the mistakes that we make on that specific pitch or that specific play, and hope that things go better from then on out.”
And that’s exactly what Minford did throughout the course of its nonconference affair with Coal Grove.
After Chase Clark and Daniel Rutherford smacked back-to-back home runs for the Hornets behind the strength of fierce winds — with Rutherford’s going over the fence in dead center — en route to taking a 3-0 lead, Minford utilized its plate discipline and overall strength at the dish to get the runs back.
Following a pair of walks by Darius Jordan and McCaleb, along with a single to center field by Gullett that loaded the bags with one down, Luke Lindamood proceeded to make a deposit as the sophomore’s double to right center field rolled all the way to the warning track, which allowed Jordan, McCaleb, and Gullett to score en route to tying the game at three after an inning of play.
“That’s been part of our mantra all year,” Hopper said. “We’re a pretty scrappy team. Just because another team puts up runs doesn’t mean that we’re down and out. We’ve shown that all year, through losses and wins. It’s just a testament to how hard these guys work.”
And Lindamood — who turned 16 on Wednesday — was one of those who saw the fruits of his labor pay off in a big way on Tuesday evening. The sophomore celebrated his birthday with an early present by going 2-for-3 with two doubles, a walk, and three runs scored on the night.
“You don’t see very many sophomores starting at such a big spot,” Hopper said. “Luke’s been hitting 3-4-5 all year for us, and it shows how good of a hitter that he actually is. He came up with a big hit there for us in the bottom half of the first.”
As a team, Minford continued its success by making the necessary plays in the field. An error and a stolen base by Ethan Louder, a single and a stolen base by Brayden Davis, and a bunt single by Darius Jordan put McCaleb in a position to drive in Louder with his sacrifice fly RBI to give the Falcons the lead after two full innings of work. An error and a RBI base knock by Ethan Louder then allowed Minford to increase the advantage to a 5-3 lead after three innings of play.
While the Falcons continued to produce needed runs at the plate, McCaleb countered his rough start to the affair on the hill by coming back with splendid work throughout his four frames of work. In fact, the senior retired each of the next dozen Coal Grove batters that he faced on the evening — and struck out five Hornets in a row at one point — en route to taking control of the affair on his own.
“That’s just Jacob as a player,” Hopper said. “He doesn’t really give into adversity, especially this year. He’s worked his butt off from Day One for me, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
As McCaleb continued to roll on the mound, Minford wasted no time adding another run to the table. A single and a stolen base from Jordan, along with an infield error that came as the result of the stolen base, allowed Gullett to pounce with a well-hit ball to dead center as the Falcons took a 6-3 advantage through four frames of work.
“What we preach to these guys is team baseball,” Hopper said. “Anytime you can move a runner over into scoring position or get the runner across is great. For example, I know that Ian Tolle moved Reid Shultz over to second in the third inning. With two strikes on him, he’s able to get a ball in play and move the runner over into scoring position. That’s just team baseball, and we scored a run because of it. It’s just what we’re trying to emphasize.”
However, baseball can feature its ups and downs.
And in the latter frames of play, Coal Grove came back to put a scare into the Falcons.
After Tolle worked out of a minor jam by nabbing Nate Harmon on a pickoff play and inducing a flyout and a groundout to end the fifth, Rutherford’s second bomb of the day — a no-doubter over the right field fence — allowed the Hornets to close within 6-4.
While Shultz undid the damage that Coal Grove made in the sixth with his single to shallow right field that scored McCaleb after two walks and a hit batsman by Hornets’ pitcher Dylan Malone, a walk by Chase McKnight, another infield error, and an intentional walk to Rutherford allowed Jeb Jones to drive in a pair of runs with his base knock to left despite an excellent start to the inning by Bailey Rowe that included a strikeout and a throw from Lindamood that extinguished Harmon following a leadoff error in the top of the seventh inning.
However, despite facing a tough situation, Rowe came up huge for the Falcons, as the freshman forced Malone into a groundout to earn the save and give Minford a big nonconference victory.
“We just tell guys to minimize (the damage),” Hopper said. “For instance, if Jacob gives up a home run, you’ve just got to minimize. Minimize runners on base, get outs where they can be taken, and that’s what they did tonight.”
For Hopper, the victory is big for the Falcons because it shows that Minford is deserving of a No. 1 seed — regardless of its age.
“Coal Grove is a No. 2 seed on our side of the bracket, so it was good for us, confidence-wise, to get this win,” Hopper said. “It shows the reason why we are a No. 1 seed on our side of the bracket.”
And Hopper knows that any success couldn’t be possible without the leadership of his four seniors.
“I’m really happy for Eric (Cook), Ian (Tolle), Jacob (McCaleb), and Matthew (Gullett),” Hopper said. “Even though Cook didn’t start tonight because he was having a little trouble with his neck, all four of them have contributed greatly to this team, and I couldn’t be prouder of these four seniors and the work that they have put in.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7