RUBYVILLE — Great contests usually have a mixture of everything.
And in a nonconference bout between the Clay Lady Panthers and the Valley Lady Indians, that’s exactly what took place.
In a contest that went back and forth throughout, both teams traded the advantage four different times over the course of the affair as neither club gave an inch to the other.
But at the end of the day, the Valley Indians, behind a RBI single from Marissa Markins, a wild pitch, and an error, found a way to edge Clay, 5-4, in a highly competitive and exciting matchup between the pair on Tuesday evening in Rubyville.
For Tim Brown, the victory was a credit to his girls’ efforts.
“Jason Gearhart does a really nice job with Clay,” Brown said. “He teaches the fundamentals very well, he’s a very good competitor, and he hates to lose. He’s a good friend of mine, but when we’re competing against one another, he likes to beat me and I like to beat him. He and his wife (Cindy) do a fine job with those girls, and they’ll win a lot of ballgames. (Hannah Oliver) pitched a great ballgame, we were just able to scramble, force them into some mistakes, and pull a victory out. I was proud of the fight that we showed.”
While the loss was disappointing for Gearhart to take, the effort from his girls wasn’t a disappointment whatsoever.
“There were a lot of positives that we can take out of the game itself,” Gearhart said. “I’m proud of all of the girls, and they played hard. Faith (Brown) pitched a good game and kept the ball away from us. She did a great job.”
But at first, however, it was Clay who struck with the opening salvo.
After obtaining a leadoff single on the back of outfielder Julia Swain, Jensyn Warnock followed with a deep drive to straightaway center that sailed over all comers in the outfield, racking up a triple in the process. Warnock then scored on Bre Donahoe’s sacrifice fly to push the Clay advantage out to a 2-0 margin after an inning of play.
“Jensyn is a solid player,” Gearhart said. “She’s a solid hitter and is a great defender; one of my best from a fielding perspective. She’s just a great all-around player.”
Over the next four innings, the pitching in the circle, courtesy of Clay’s Hannah Oliver and Valley’s Faith Brown, proceeded to wow with their pitching abilities. Oliver struck out seven batters over the first four innings on her own, while Brown allowed just one hit between the second and fifth frames. Both players notched complete game efforts in the circle, and Brown — for good measure — went 3-for-4 with a double in the contest.
“Hannah pitched a tremendous game,” Gearhart said. “She did a tremendous job. She has worked and improved all winter, and it was evident in her pitching performance (on Tuesday).”
“Faith pitched another good game tonight,” Brown said. “Then offensively, she went 3-for-4 tonight at the plate and got on base every time, which was crucial for us. She didn’t have a lot of strikeouts, but Clay hit the ball effectively tonight and put it in play.”
Despite Oliver’s ability to throw past Valley batters with her heart’s content, the Indians found a way to scrap and claw back from the early two-run deficit.
Brown, who hit in the N0. 3 hole for the Indians, ripped a double to left field with two outs in the third, and Destiny Gardner followed one batter later by slapping an equally hard-hit ball to right field as pinch-runner Rylee Holbrook came across to score. Margaret Cauldwell then followed in the fourth inning with a double on a ball that was hit off of the center field fence, then stole third to allow Evie Phillips to bring Cauldwell home on a 4-3 RBI groundout to tie the score at two apiece.
Then, there was the fifth inning, which proved to be a near carbon-copy of the third frame.
Despite facing a two-out situation once again, Brown responded by darting a single to right, and Holbrook, who pinch-ran for Brown again, stole second base for the second time in the contest. Gardner then followed the chain of events up by proving herself as a clutch cleanup hitter as the senior used another RBI base knock to score the speedy Gardner from second base to give Valley a 3-2 advantage through five innings of play.
“Rylee was huge in stealing second base for us right there,” Brown said. “If she doesn’t do that, and Destiny doesn’t come up huge with two base knocks that resulted in RBI — all in a two-out situation, no less — we don’t win the ballgame. They made critical plays when they had to be made.”
The Lady Panthers, however, didn’t go down without a fight.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Swain got the party rolling again from her leadoff spot with a base knock, and Shaelyn Vassar followed by reaching on an error.
Even though Warnock grounded out on a hard shot to short that forced the lead runner, Swain, out at third base, Vassar and Warnock responded by taking second and third on a double steal, and Donahoe followed by drawing a four-pitch walk.
Then two batters later, Cassidy Wells followed up her teammates’ efforts with the biggest hit of the contest to that point in time, as the sophomore rifled a Brown pitch through the infield, scoring Vassar and Warnock and putting Clay out in front by a 4-3 margin.
In all, Swain, Wells and eight-hole hitter Elisa Collins were critical for Clay throughout the evening, as the trio combined to go 5-for-10 at the plate with two RBI and a run scored.
“Julia’s worked hard all summer,” Gearhart said. “She has really seen the ball well this year and has been a factor at the plate and on the basepaths in every game. She’s going to be a big factor for us in the circle, as well. Cassidy notched a big hit for us last night and came through in a clutch situation, and Elisa hit the ball hard last night, which is a good sign for us.”
The Lady Indians, however, weren’t deterred. With one out on the board, Kirbi Sommers launched an Oliver pitch into the outfield to notch a double, and stole third base on the next pitch to Marissa Markins. The latter then wasted no time in recording a clutch base hit of her own, as Markins recorded a base knock that scored Sommers, and advanced to second on the throw home.
With the game notched at four apiece, Brown came up to the dish and watched as a wild pitch sailed by, allowing Markins to advance to third base. The junior then put a ball in play, and the Lady Panthers, in trying to prevent the go-ahead run, threw home in an effort to prevent the run from scoring. The throw, however, sailed wide, and the infield error allowed Brown to advance to second, with Markins coming home as the game’s winning run.
Behind a leadoff base knock from Collins in the bottom of the seventh, Clay seemed to have an excellent chance at answering the bell one final time. However, a Faith Brown strikeout and a double play allowed Valley to come away with its second victory in as many days.
Brown, however, knows that his girls are plenty capable of accomplishing more. Valley hosted Oak Hill Wednesday evening and will play Lewis County (Ky.) in Lucasville on Saturday.
“We’d like to start our SOC II slate off on the right foot,” Brown said. “Oak Hill’s competitive; they’ve got some young girls in junior high last year that were really good. They’re young, but they’re going to be competitive. They’re not going to roll over easily. We’ve got to hit the ball and put it in play.”
As for Gearhart, the mistakes that Clay (2-1) made in the contest weren’t anything that the Lady Panthers can’t fix going forward.
“We didn’t bunt very well last night and we made a few mental mistakes, but those are all things that can be easily fixed,” Gearhart said. “We’ll be fine.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7