Over his first two seasons as a varsity baseball competitor, Valley’s Jared Morrow has already built up quite the resume.
And so far, his third year with the Indians has proven to be no different.
The junior hand, after collecting a three-hit performance against Piketon on Monday evening at VA Memorial Stadium in the Indians’ 9-8 loss to the Redstreaks, proceeded to throw a gem of a game against the Portsmouth Trojans’ baseball program on Tuesday evening by striking out seven Portsmouth batters, allowing just seven Trojan hits, and giving up just one earned run. And if that weren’t enough, Morrow also added the game’s biggest hit at the dish by knocking in two runs with his two-RBI base knock in the top of the fifth that allowed Valley to make up an early 2-0 deficit en route to taking home a 5-3 victory over Portsmouth in a nonconference bout that was played on the campus of Portsmouth High School.
For Nolan Crabtree, the contest came down to his team refusing to quit under the circumstances that beset them early in the contest — when five errors over the game’s first four innings put Valley behind by the previously mentioned 2-0 margin.
“We battled (on Monday evening) and lost a tough extra inning game to Piketon, and in both games, it was kind of the same things,” Crabtree said. “We’re starting a freshman and two sophomores with one, sometimes two, seniors in the lineup, and we’re going to have some mistakes like that, but they’re battlers and they’re ballplayers. They’re going to get better. The mistakes that are being made are just a part of youth, inexperience, and jitters. Still, the guys just kept battling and fighting, and they did a great job.”
As for Josh McGraw, the four errors that Portsmouth committed between the fifth and sixth innings were the difference — especially considering that Valley scored all five of its runs in the pair of frames — four of which were of the unearned variety.
“We didn’t expect anything like that to happen, but in the first game, you’ll have those jitters,” McGraw said. “We missed a couple of balls that we should’ve caught, and the next thing that you know, instead of being up 2-0, we’re down 4-2, but that’s baseball. We’ve got to get better and better, day-by-day, and figure things out. We’re still working with some guys, making them better, and seeing who’s in the best spots and things like that. That’ll show over the next week, and we’ll figure out what’s going on.”
Early on, however, it was the Trojans who were putting the pressure on the Indians. After a well-hit ball was tracked down in right field by Tanner Cunningham, two consecutive Valley errors — an infield error and a dropped fly ball in the outfield that was tagged in a strong manner by Reese Johnson — allowed Jack Workman to come home for the game’s first run in the opening inning of play.
After back-to-back silent frames where Morrow and Portsmouth hand Isaac Kelly combined to face just two batters above the minimum between the second and third innings, the Trojans, again, struck as a leadoff bunt single from Kelly in the fourth inning, along with a sacrifice bunt from Zach Kinney and two infield errors, ultimately allowed Kelly to score as Portsmouth took a 2-0 lead.
“We didn’t have a lot of hits over the first four innings, but they gave us some baserunners, and we got a couple in by moving guys up on bunts and did a good job,” McGraw said. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game, which is what we’re supposed to do. Each game, if you can get the pitching, a little bit of defense, and a little bit of offense, and just try to put yourself in a position to get the win, that’s all you can ask. But we’ve got to close games out, too.”
One thing was for certain, however: Kelly was bringing the heat on the hill, as well. The senior, who — like Morrow — starred on the mound as well as the dish, ultimately struck out four batters, allowed just three hits, and walked only two Valley batsmen while giving up just one earned run through six complete, faced just two Valley batters above the minimum through four innings of work — all while going 3-for-4 at the plate with two runs scored for the Trojans.
“Isaac pitched an awesome game,” McGraw said. “He pitched well enough to win.”
But in the fifth inning, Valley — seemingly fueled by two pickoffs from Morrow that stymied potentially bigger frames for Portsmouth in the second and third innings — flipped the script. After a routine fly ball to start, a one-out single from Jake Ashkettle and a sacrifice bunt by Andrew Andronis moved Ashkettle over to second base. Then, after a Cayton Ruby walk and a wild pitch during Brecken Williams’ at-bat, Cunningham hit a dart that was mishandled in the infield, which allowed Askkettle to score.
“Over the first few innings, we hit the ball hard and they made the plays,” Crabtree said. “It’s one of those things where you keep telling guys, ‘You keep hitting the ball hard and they’re either going to fall in play or they’re going to make an error or two. Tanner hit the ball hard with two outs, and they misplay one. After that, it just seemed like everything started to roll our way.”
And from that point on, the momentum certainly was rolling in the direction of the Indians.
After a Kayden Mollette free pass, Morrow stepped up from his three-hole position, and — with a chance to help himself — didn’t disappoint by launching a two-out single into right field to score Ruby and Cunningham and give the Indians the lead. Another infield error then allowed Cunningham to score as a four-run frame from Valley allowed the Indians to come from 2-0 down to 4-2 up. Two additional errors in the sixth inning then allowed Ashkettle to score a second time as Valley increased its lead to a 5-2 margin.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, however, Portsmouth made things interesting. After a leadoff single from Kelly to start the frame, Zach Kinney walked and William Sturgill shot a single back up the middle to load the bags up. Two batters later, Ethan Boggs responded with an infield single off to the right to score Kelly and put Sturgill — the tying run — at second base.
But from there, Morrow completely shut the door. With just one out, the junior struck out Chris Yerardi swinging and punched out Bryce Wallace looking to end the threat, then sandwiched three additional strikeouts in between a one-out single by Johnson in the bottom of the seventh to seal the deal on his complete game effort, and a Valley win.
“Jared was amazing tonight,” Crabtree said. “He was a First-Team All-SOC Player of the Year last year, and he’s been our most consistent player for two years now. He’s small in stature, but he’s got the heart of a champ. He goes to the plate and he hits the ball with authority every time up. He got three hits (on Monday) a couple of RBIs, and tied the game in the seventh inning last night with a triple. What he does at the plate and what he does for us is excellent. He’s a great competitor and a great ballplayer.”
With the victory, Valley (1-1) will look to carry over its strong finish to Tuesday evening’s contest into a Wednesday evening battle with Waverly — a quality that Crabtree certainly believes can be done.
“We’ve got guys that are putting in some trial by fire,” Crabtree said. “The little mistakes that we’re making is good to see right now compared to when we really get into the heart of our conference schedule. The SOC II is where it’s at. We’re going to be tested, night-in and night-out, for four or five weeks, and we’ve got to come to play. We’ve got to tighten things up, but we’ve got the ability to do it. I’ve seen it in scrimmages. We can play better; we’ve just got to get rid of some of the nerves and make sure that we’re playing fundamentally sound baseball.”
As for Portsmouth (0-1), the Trojans will have to bounce back quickly — especially with Adena looming on Wednesday at the VA and Fairland following that affair on Friday evening in Portsmouth.
“We’ve got a tough one tomorrow,” McGraw said. “Adena’s a big-time ballclub, and we get the chance to play at VA Memorial Stadium, which is awesome. It’s a beautiful ballpark, and they’re going to love that atmosphere. A lot of these players have never played there, so I was able to call up there and get us a game at the facility. We’ve got to get rolling. We don’t have that rhythm yet. Hopefully, we can get a rhythm by Friday, when we start our league play (against Fairland). Winning the league is our goal at the beginning of the year. We’ll see what we can do by Friday.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT