LUCASVILLE — For the opening five innings, the upstart yet underdog Oak Hill Oaks had the experienced Valley Indians —in Monday’s matchup of Southern Ohio Conference Division II baseball unbeatens —on the proverbial ropes.
But Valley freshman Carson Powell punched back with his mastery on the mound, the Indians’ uppercuts of the bats finally landed in the fifth, and senior George Arnett ultimately threw the knockout jab.
In the end, the senior-laden Indians remain the SOC Division II weight class frontrunners —as Valley erased a pair of deficits en route to defeating Oak Hill 6-4 on the sunsoaked homefront of The Reservation.
As Oak Hill handed visiting Wheelersburg a 1-0 walkoff defeat on Friday, the Oaks’ undefeated early start stretched into Monday —making the contest against also undefeated Valley an all-of-the-sudden all-important SOC II must-see.
It then became quite interesting quite quick, when Valley senior standout pitcher Carter Nickel started but only faced three Oak Hill batters —allowing three hits and an earned run for a 1-0 very-early Oaks advantage.
Valley veteran head coach Nolan Crabtree quickly hooked Nickel in favor of Powell —and did that decision, although Nickel apparently was in pain, pay dividends down the line.
Powell didn’t allow an earned run despite the two Oak Hill markers in the fifth for a 3-1 short-lived lead —as the Indians answered that 3-1 deficit with a four-run four-hit eruption in their fifth.
Crabtree explained his Indians’ pitching situation, as it turned out.
Nickel, fresh off his official announcement of his collegiate baseball signing to Georgetown College and a complete-game one-hit 2-0 shutout of South Webster on Thursday, unfortunately never looked comfortable on the mound on Monday.
So Crabtree came and got him, and put Powell in.
“I had planned on shortening him (Nickel) up today after him going the distance with the weather on Thursday. He got out there, but he’s had some bicep tendinitis in the past and missed a couple starts last year due to it. He was tight and told me ‘it wasn’t right’. Instead of keeping him out there and risking further damage, we just went ahead and pulled the plug real quick. But let me tell you…Carson Powell has as good a stuff as anybody, I don’t care what grade he is in,” said the coach. “He is 85 to 86 (miles per hour on fastball pitches), it’s just about command with him. He’s going to miss bats and he has to be more pitch-efficient, but he is a tough and uncomfortable guy to step in the box against. He gave us huge innings to where I felt comfortable enough where if I needed to buy one inning with George (Arnett), I could.”
Powell powered and pitched for five innings for the win, and although he hit five Oaks and walked four, the only basehit he allowed was an Aidan Hall single in the fifth.
With two Indian errors in the fifth for the Oaks’ 3-1 lead, both runs were unearned —as Oak Hill combined a Nate Clutters leadoff walk, Hall’s single with an error in the outfield, a Gavin Howell RBI on an unsuccessful fielder’s choice, and Hall and Howell both scoring on a steal attempt which resulted in a catcher’s overthrow.
But Powell came back with an Oak on third base, getting his sixth and final strikeout —and then inducing a 4-3 groundout to end the inning.
After the Indians reclaimed the lead at 5-3, Arnett replaced Powell after his fifth and final hit batsman in the sixth —and induced immediately a 6-4-3 double play with Ridout replacing Arnett at shortstop.
Arnett then struck out the next two batters he faced, and although Oak Hill had an unearned run in the seventh on an infield error and a Howell RBI-single that plated Hall, he induced a groundout to second to end the game —and gain the save.
Arnett is expected to start on Wednesday at Wheelersburg, but kept his pitch count against Oak Hill low enough to where it was immaterial.
“George got out of the sixth inning with just four pitches and two batters, one being the double play on the first pitch, and I think he only threw about 16 (pitches),” said Crabtree. “That’s where we are at. We had planned on about four or five innings with Carter, one or two with Carson, we had George in reserve to close it if needed. But those guys did their jobs.”
With the win, and with Wheelersburg —the defending SOC II outright champion— awaiting the Indians on Wednesday, Valley raised its record to 7-0, and to 6-0 and alone atop the division.
“Our kids just fought. We knew this was going to be a great ballgame. Oak Hill was riding high coming in here, playing well, had us down twice and they threatened every single inning” said Crabtree. “Just to get out of here the way we did, staying unbeaten in the conference, after being down…”
The now 7-1 and 5-1 in the SOC II Oaks, after the prevailing over the Pirates, gave the Indians indeed everything they had —especially pitcher Mason Davis.
Davis pitched a complete game in facing the Valley lineup three times through, allowing five earned runs on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
He also threw one wild pitch, which Arnett scored upon in the second stanza — following a leadoff single and advancing two bases on a 4-6 fielder’s choice and a 5-3 groundout.
Davis retired the Indians 1-2-3 in the fourth, following an infield hit by Tate Queen in the first and a walk to Jaekyn Ridout in the third.
But the sophomore Ridout, who can play two or three positions plus pitch, roped a one-out double to left centerfield for the 3-3 tie —scoring Powell who himself doubled, and fellow freshman Gabe McNeil who reached on an infield hit for Indians on the corners.
Ridout reversed the tilt’s tide with his clutch hit, said Crabtree.
“We got just a huge hit from Jaekyn Ridout,” he said. “We had some great at-bats leading up to that, Jaekyn got ahead in the count and knew he was getting a fastball, and he didn’t miss it. A big shot in the gap for us right there to tie the game and a big weight off our shoulders.”
The Indians then went ahead 4-3 when Jace Copley hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield, scoring Colt Buckle, who followed the hits by Powell and McNeil with a walk.
Queen then singled home Ridout, making it 5-3.
In the sixth, Valley had doubled up Oak Hill —with Hunter Edwards drawing a one-out walk, stealing second, and scoring on the Oaks’ only error in the game, when the ball off McNeil’s bat was dropped in the outfield.
“That high sky with the sun and not a cloud out there, right field is going to force you to work out there this time of year,” said Crabtree. “Fortunate for us, that one found it and it gave us a little bit of breathing room.”
Indeed, fortunate for the Indians in part —as Oak Hill had its early chances to build upon a 1-0 lead, and then rally from a 6-3 deficit.
Rylan Sams doubled off Nickel to lead off, and Clutters and Hall had singles to follow, with Hall’s single to right to cross Sams.
With one out, Powell hit his first batter to load the bases —but came right back with his second strikeout, and caught Hall off guard leading off of second.
Then, in the second, history repeated itself —with Powell’s first two walks and his third hit batsman loading the bases.
Once again, Powell picked the runner off at second with the bags full —and for the third out in the inning both times.
Oak Hill left seven runners stranded, was called for a runner’s obstruction in the fourth, and Howell was thrown out at second in the seventh — trying to stretch his RBI-single into a double.
“I would say (Oak Hill head coach) Coach (Jason) Wright would say two baserunning mistakes early with the bases loaded, and a couple more late,” said Crabtree. “We had some things go our way. But that’s baseball, and things are going to happen.”
On Monday, what happened was the Indians fought back and won —from up against the ropes early on.
“The first five innings, Oak Hill had our backs against the wall. Once we got that part figured out and we took that lead, and George (Arnett) came in and got that double play, it was like we got this,” said Crabtree. “You could just feel the momentum flip right there.”
* * *
Oak Hill 100 020 1 —4 5 1
Valley 010 041 X —6 6 3
OHHS: Mason Davis 6IP, 6R, 5ER, 0HB, 3BB, 6H, 1WP, 3K, 27BF
VHS: Carter Nickel 0+IP, 1R, 1ER, 0HB, 0BB, 3H, 1WP, 0K, 3BF; Carson Powell 5+IP, 2R, 0ER, 5HB, 4BB, 1H, 1WP, 6K, 23BF; George Arnett 2IP, 1R, 0ER, 0HB, 0BB, 1H, 0WP, 2K, 6BF
W —Carson Powell; L — Mason Davis; S —George Arnett