LUCASVILLE —The Valley Indians celebrated baseball Senior Day on Monday, but it was their sole junior which made it indeed an evening to savor —and one to play spoiler.
That’s because catcher Jace Copley, the Indians’ only junior on their entire roster but sporting the same amount of varsity experience as the seven-man strong senior class, came through with a clutch walkoff RBI-single —lifting Valley to a 2-1 triumph over the visiting Waverly Tigers in a key Southern Ohio Conference Division II makeup matchup at The Reservation.
That’s correct, Copley can be considered somewhat of an eighth Indian senior, as his seven brethren ahead of him did not have a freshman campaign — canceled by the Ohio High School Athletic Association because of the coronavirus threat.
Since then, Copley and the seven seniors have captured two Division IV district championships and one Region 15 title — and are on the hunt for more hardware with the Southeast District Division III tournament this year.
But, on Monday, it was all about the Indians’ Senior Day —and not just winning for the seven seniors, but also ending the Tigers’ title hopes of sharing the SOC II crown with Wheelersburg.
Wheelersburg, with a dramatic 5-4 come-from-behind walkoff win over Minford from Friday, won — at the time —at least a share of the league championship, with Waverly needing to win at Valley on Monday AND at West on Thursday in order to split with the Pirates.
Instead, Copley quelled those hopes —with his two-out last-stanza single to right field, which lofted and floated before falling into the shallow outfield grass.
Against Alex Boles, the Waverly senior ace pitcher, Carter Nickel —one of the seven seniors —drew a leadoff walk, as freshman Gabe McNeil pinch ran for him.
The speedy McNeil motored to second base on senior Colt Buckle’s sacrifice bunt, then to third on a groundout by Jaekyn Ridout.
That set up Copley, who dropped in his single to cross McNeil — and sent the Indians into a frenzy with a wild celebration scene by first base.
It also raised the Indians’ record to 14-5, and to 11-4 in the SOC II —along with Waverly (15-7, 11-4 SOC II).
Valley had been in the thick of the SOC II logjam —but a 6-1 loss to Wheelersburg last Wednesday, followed by Wheelersburg’s win over Minford, ended the Indians’ opportunity at a share.
The Indians also lost three one-run league games — 2-1 at Wheelersburg on April 12, 4-3 in a walkoff at Waverly two days later, and then a week later a 1-0 pitchers’ duel at South Webster.
Valley coach Nolan Crabtree was happy — and even relieved — about Monday’s victory, which was completed in an hour and 40 following a 40-minute rain delay.
“It’s been a rough couple of weeks for us, losing close hard-fought games. We had our chances in every one of those (four league losses). Our offense, it just seemed like we had a lot of bad luck at times, or just lack of execution. Tonight, we walked six times, our energy was good, we had good at-bats all night long, we hit the ball hard, and I just felt like if we kept having the quality at-bats and getting runners on, somebody was going to find a hole,” said Crabtree. “That last inning was great execution. Carter (Nickel) had a great at-bat to work the walk, Colt gets down the sac bunt, Jaekyn gets him over to third and Jace hits the bleeder to right field to win the game. Early in the game, we hit the ball hard with runners on, but it didn’t work out. Then you get that type of hit to make up for it.”
And, it came from Copley —making a senior-like play despite his junior standing in school.
“Jace has been a phenomenal hitter and has had a great season at the plate,” continued Crabtree.
Both teams had five hits, but Boles walked six of the 29 Indians he faced — despite his four strikeouts, and retiring the Indians 1-2-3 in innings one and six.
Only Nickel’s walk would eventually haunt, as Valley scored first in the fifth — when Buckle singled to left to lead off, stole second and third as Boles retired the next two Indians, and senior Chris Queen singled to center to score Buckle.
Before that, the only other Indian hits were Ridout’s one-out single in the third —and senior Hunter Edwards’ two-out single in the fourth.
But Boles stranded them both —along with Tate Queen at third and Carson Powell at second in the second, Copley at first in the third, and Powell again at second in the fourth.
Those were the first four walks issued by Boles, who later walked Tate Queen in the fifth —as the Tigers caught Chris Queen trying to steal third.
“The problem was getting guys on base, but once we did that, Chris Queen came up and his basehit was perfectly placed to score Colt (Buckle) from third,” said Crabtree, commenting on the Indians’ improved offense.
Although the Indians did make three errors, including two for the unearned Tiger tally in the sixth, Valley senior pitcher George Arnett needed no such improvement.
The fast-working right-hander had it going again —with no hit batters and no walks while striking out five Tigers, and facing the Waverly lineup one shy of exactly three times through.
The only Waverly hits were Peyton Harris with a leadoff single in the second, Quinton Hurd with a leadoff double and Creed Smith with a one-out single in the third, Jamison Morton with a two-out single in the fifth, and Jase Hurd’s one-out run-scoring single in the sixth for the 1-1 tie.
L.T. Jordan had reached on an error, then Arnett misfired on a pickoff throw —as Jordan mad-dashed to third.
He scored on Hurd’s hit, but Hurd himself was caught stealing second —as the Tigers stranded runners at first in both the fifth and seventh.
In addition, Arnett induced three pop-outs to escape runners on the corners in the third —and Ridout caught a lineout and doubled up Harris at first in the second.
“George just went out and pitched another great game. The run that they got was unearned on our mistake in the field and our mistake on the pickoff,” said Crabtree.
Other than three errors, “we played a solid baseball game”, explained the coach.
“It was a hard-fought win for us and a well-played game by both teams. It was nice to get this type of win as we try to wind things up before tournament play. It was good energy and good vibes in the dugout. If we play this quality of baseball, we will be a tough out in the tournament,” said Crabtree. “We do pitch, and it’s hard to score a lot of runs against us. That’s just what we have to continue to do, and manufacture a run or two.”
The Indians did just that to celebrate Senior Day —as Crabtree has coached them all three years for baseball, while also being a mentor on the football staff too.
Valley wraps up SOC II play on Thursday at Oak Hill.
The seven seniors include Arnett, Buckle, Edwards, Nickel, Chris Queen, J.R. Holbrook and Kason Bauer.
“These guys have had very accomplished baseball careers, and we’re hoping that it’s not over yet,” said Crabtree. “We’ve got a chance to make some more noise here before it’s all said and done.”
* * *
Waverly 000 001 0 —1 5 0
Valley 000 010 1 —2 5 3
WHS: Alex Boles 7IP, 2R, 2ER, 0HB, 6BB, 5H, 2WP, 4K, 29BF
VHS: George Arnett 7IP, 1R, 0ER, 0HB, 0BB, 5H, 0WP, 5K, 26BF
W —George Arnett; L —Alex Boles
Waverly hitting: L.T. Jordan RS, Jase Hurd 1-3 RBI, Peyton Harris 1-3, Quinton Hurd 1-3 D, Jamison Morton 1-3, Creed Smith 1-3
Valley hitting: Jaekyn Ridout 1-4 SB, Jace Copley 1-3 RBI BB, Chris Queen 1-3 RBI, Tate Queen 2BB, Carson Powell 2BB, Hunter Edwards 1-3, Carter Nickel BB, Colt Buckle 1-2 RS 2SB SAC, Gabe McNeil RS
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved