LUCASVILLE — For once following facing the Minford Falcons, Valley baseball coach Nolan Crabtree could express a sense of relief.
In the previous four meetings against Minford, the contests all went to extra innings —including last season’s second matchup between the two, which actually ended on a second day, with Minford winning 2-1 in 14 frames and following a lights outage at the Falcons’ Nest.
This time, on Wednesday at Valley’s Reservation, the senior-laden Indians endured no such drama —and in fact rolled to a 7-0 shutout.
Carter Nickel pitched an on-the-money two-hit shutout — and junior catcher Jace Copley spearheaded the Indians’ 13-hit barrage — as Valley scored once in the opening inning, followed by two more markers in the second stanza and four more for ultimate insurance in the fourth.
The Falcons finished with just two hits, both by sophomore catcher J.D. Matiz, and one could argue defensive plays could have been made on both balls.
But Nickel retired the Falcons 1-2-3 in the opening two innings, escaped a jam with runners at second and third in the third, and left runners aboard in the fourth and fifth — followed by a game-ending double play turned in by shortstop George Arnett.
With the Southern Ohio Conference Division II triumph, Valley raised its record to 2-0 both ways —while Minford fell to 0-2, having lost a close opener at Oak Hill in the league 3-2.
These Indians, which sport seven seniors off a 22-4 campaign which included a second consecutive Division IV district championship, have a standout 1-2 pitching punch —with fellow seniors Nickel and Arnett.
Nickel got the ball against the Falcons, as he struck out five in facing one Falcon short of the entire lineup three times through.
He hit Matiz with a pitch to lead off the third, as Kyle Laxton reached on an Indian infield error —and both baserunners advanced a base on a sacrifice bunt.
But Nickel induced Adam Crank to pop out to second —one of several at-bats in which the Falcons flew out to an Indian infielder or outfielder.
Crabtree reaped praise on his senior right-hander, who faced four Falcons apiece in innings four, five and six.
“Carter was phenomenal. Strike one is always big. This first time out, I had him on a pitch limit. I think he ended up around 80 pitches where were looking around the 75 to 90 range,” said the coach. “He was in control, got ahead of batters and put them away. Carter is best when he gets a lot of strikeouts and fly balls. He rides the ball up in the zone on people and gets the pop-ups when they hit it. He was excellent tonight.”
From the fourth inning onward, the Falcons forged a few more baserunners, but nothing to show for them.
Minford’s Mason Book reached on another infield error in the fourth, as Aodhan Queen reached on a 5-4 fielder’s choice and advanced on a wild pitch.
But Nickel stuck out the final two Falcons of the inning, then retired three in a row after Matiz’s single to right to lead off the fifth.
In the sixth, Queen reached on a two-out walk, but Arnett —on the next at-bat —made a spectacular go-out and get-up grab of a Falcon fly ball to the outfield grass.
It was one of several Minford popped-up hits which the Indians caught, much to the dismay of first-year Minford coach Eli Daniels.
“They (Indians) put the ball in play and we put the ball in the air,” he said. “Fly balls are a lot easier than ground balls. That’s about all there was to our hitting today. It was sub-par at best. We didn’t have too much of an idea of what we wanted and it showed. We were swinging at pitches out of the zone that should have never been swung at.”
Finally, in the seventh, after Matiz dropped in a single to center field, Arnett doubled him off at first —as he caught a line drive to start the 6-3 double play.
For the Indians, of their 13 hits, seven were of the infield variety —and five of them led directly to runs.
Most of them went behind the second-base bag, or to the side of the shortstop Crank, who likely saved some additional runs himself.
“They did everything right. They had good pitching, timely fielding and timely hitting. They did everything exactly that we didn’t do,” said Daniels. “They put the ball on the ground, made us field the ball, and it didn’t work out in our favor. I thought Adam Crank covered his area very well, which was most of the left side of the field. I can’t complain there, but still, it’s the little things in baseball that we didn’t do today.”
The Indians, on the other hand, did.
Against Minford senior pitcher Noah Martin, Valley got back-to-back leadoff infield hits by Jaekyn Ridout and Copley —and combined those with a Ridout stolen base, a walk to Arnett, a 6-2 fielder’s choice, and finally Copley scoring on a Martin two-out wild pitch.
The Indians also scored their second and third runs with two outs in the second —when Colt Buckle reached on Minford’s only error, stole second, and advanced to third on another Ridout infield hit.
Copley then doubled to left center, plating Buckle and Ridout to make it 3-0.
In the fourth, the Indians batted around for four runs to make it 7-0 —amassing six hits including the first five without an out.
Hunter Edwards, Buckle on a bunt, and Ridout all had infield hits —as Carson Powell doubled to center to cross Edwards, and Copley singled to left bring home Powell.
Chris Queen, who doubled in the sixth off Minford reliever Ty Borland, capped off the fourth by singling in both Buckle and Ridout.
Ridout, Copley and Edwards all went 3-for-4 —as Edwards added a leadoff single in the fifth, followed by an infield hit with two outs in the seventh, which was Valley’s 13th and final.
“I can’t say enough about our hitting, as Jace Copley really set the tone. His big double with two outs was the tone-setter,” said Crabtree. “But up and down the lineup, we put the ball in play. The majority of our hits were hard-hit or well-struck balls that they had to make plays on. There was nothing easy about them and we had a couple of nice bunts. We just executed tonight from top to bottom.”
Martin was the losing pitcher after working four and two-thirds frames and facing the Indians three times through, as he gave up 11 hits and two walks with five earned runs.
The game was originally scheduled to be played at Minford, but with wind damage done to its outfield fence and thus forcing the change of venue, Valley made the most of its impromptu home bout.
“Carter threw strikes, had great timely hitting and our defense did its job for the most part,” said Crabtree. “That’s how you play clean and win ballgames.”
And, for Crabtree against the Falcons, it was finally —as it turned out —a stress-free matchup.
* * *
Minford 000 000 0 — 0 2 1
Valley 120 400 X —7 13 2
MHS: Noah Martin 4 2/3IP, 7R, 5ER, 0HB, 2BB, 11H, 1WP, 2K, 27BF; Ty Borland 1 2/3IP, 0R, 0ER, 1HB, 1BB, 2H, 0WP, 0K, 8BF
VHS: Carter Nickel 7IP, 0R, 0ER, 1HB, 1BB, 2H, 1WP, 5K, 26BF
W — Carter Nickel; L — Noah Martin