CHILLICOTHE — Over the course of the 2017 season, the Minford Falcons have prided themselves on timely hitting and pitching in addition to poised play from its entire lineup.
And during a Division III, Southeast II District Semifinal, more of the same was evident for Minford as the Falcons used three-hit performances from Luke Lindamood and Ian Tolle, along with six runs over the first two innings of action, to take home a 6-4 victory over Nelsonville-York on Friday evening at VA Memorial Stadium.
While the contest didn’t represent his unit’s best performance, Aaron Hopper was still pleased with how his players handled the go-or-go-home affair.
“We could’ve done a lot of things better, but I thought we played pretty good, for the most part,” Hopper said. “We’re a young team, so you never know what’s going through a kid’s head when he gets out here. Luckily, we’ve got some good senior leadership, and it helps us out a lot because they have been here (on this stage before).”
And that showed in the first and second innings, even after Nelsonville-York’s Reece Robson led off the top half of the first frame with a solo shot to left field.
After a strikeout to begin the bottom half of the first frame, a single by Tolle and a stolen base allowed Jacob McCaleb to plate his classmate with his RBI base knock to left field. An error on the same sequence allowed McCaleb to advance to second base, and the senior pitcher then came home himself on a RBI base knock to right field by Matthew Gullett as Minford took a 2-1 lead after an inning of play.
In the second frame, the Falcons continued their torrid pace at the dish. Brayden Davis started the assault with a leadoff walk, then advanced to second base on a balk. A walk by Darius Jordan then set the table for Tolle, who brought Davis home with his RBI single as Jordan advanced to third base.
From there, Minford’s excellent plate discipline took over. Four straight walks — drawn by McCaleb, Lindamood, Ethan Lauder, and Cole Ratcliff — allowed the Falcons to plate three additional runs as Minford took a 6-0 lead after two innings of play.
“For the most part, we did a good job of staying within ourselves and not getting too overanxious swinging at balls out of the zone,” Hopper said. “We did a really good job at the plate.”
That came in large part due to the efforts of Lindamood and Tolle, who were catalysts from their six-hole and two-hole positions, respectively. The duo combined to go 7-for-7 on the day with two RBI, two stolen bases, and a walk in allowing Minford to get out to the early lead that would never be relinquished.
“Last year, Ian came up big for us in a lot of critical moments in the district and the regional tournament,” Hopper said. “He’s really a postseason player, and it showed today. For Luke to go 3-for-3 from the six-hole and catch the game that he did behind the plate, as a sophomore, shows the kind of player that he is.”
After a quiet third inning, a lightning delay in the top half of the fourth inning halted play for an hour and five minutes after Nelsonville-York obtained a double from Hunter Dobbs to put runners on second and third with two down in the frame. Less than five minutes after the delay ended, Nelsonville-York gave Minford a test as Levi Lent launched a double down the left field line to score Dobbs and Ted Campbell, and two batters later, Tyler Smith used his RBI base knock to left to score Lent as the Buckeyes cut the deficit to a 6-4 margin.
However, McCaleb’s frame-ending strikeout of Bryce Parker-Lent was a sign of how the senior would answer the bell in the remaining innings. The Minford ace threw a complete game six-hitter and struck out six, and following the fourth inning, only faced two above the minimum over the rest of the way — thanks to a defense that didn’t commit a single error — to lead the Falcons to the victory.
“I think that Jacob has to have one bad inning for the few good ones that he throws,” Hopper said, smiling. “Once he settles in, he’s good. He’s hard to beat when he settles in. Over the course of the offseason, we preach about how important it is to play great defense. It showed here today. (VA Stadium) does get you truer hops than most fields. It obviously helps us out when you do have a good defense, because balls are easier to field.”
For the Falcons, it is on to the Division III, Southeast II District Finals, where Minford will look to make its second consecutive trip to regionals. To do so, the Falcons will have to defeat Zane Trace — a task that Minford successfully accomplished in its season-opener when the Falcons took a 13-7 bout over the Pioneers in Minford.
“We played both Zane Trace and Coal Grove in the regular season,” Hopper said before the Pioneers defeated Coal Grove, 6-2, on Friday evening. “Both teams can swing the bat, especially Zane Trace, from top to bottom. They’re two really good opponents. We’re going to have to be ready to go.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7