SOUTH WEBSTER — When a unit comes out and performs at the plate from top to bottom, the results usually end up being of the very promising variety.
On Monday evening, the Valley Indians’ baseball program did exactly that as Valley, behind seven hits and six RBI in 10 combined appearances at the dish from Jake Ashkettle and Tanner Cunningham, along with 16 hits overall, claimed a season sweep of the South Webster Jeeps’ baseball program by taking home an 18-7 victory on Monday evening in South Webster.
For Nolan Crabtree, the performance at the plate was very pleasing to see — and a sign that Valley is continuing to get better in that area.
“We’ve been hitting the ball very well lately,” Crabtree said. “The big thing is this: we have seven games in six days this week, and 12 games in 12 days overall. We’ve got a lot of guys, so we’re going to have to utilize a lot of arms and do a lot of different things. We didn’t quite shut the game down like we needed to tonight, but overall, we got some kids some playing time and got some good at-bats for them.”
As for Ryan McClintic, his youthful Jeeps are simply going to have to keep plugging away as the days, and games, go by.
“Hat’s off to Valley,” McClintic said. “They really put the bat on the ball well. They’re well coached. Nolan does a great job with them. We knew that they were going to put the ball in play, and with the younger guys that are on the mound, we just ask them to go in and throw strikes. Right now, we’re just not making a lot of the routine plays, and if you give a team extra outs in an inning, that’s never going to be a recipe for success. We’re just trying to stay the course and tell guys to keep their heads up. We know what kind of players that they can be.”
Valley, who put together its highest run total of the season in the victory, scored in six of the seven innings on Monday and put up multiple runs in five of the seven innings behind the play of Cunningham, who went 3-for-5 with a triple, a double, two RBI and three runs scored and Ashkettle, who went 4-for-5 with four RBI, a stolen base, and two runs scored. Ashkettle’s RBI single to left brought home Cunningham and Jared Morrow to put Valley up 2-0 after the opening half inning after Cunningham reached on an infield single and Morrow walked.
“The top of the order has been great,” Crabtree said. “Tanner, Jake, and Jared Morrow have absolutely been killing the baseball. Then, the bottom of the order has been coming along over the past couple of games. Hopefully, we’re putting that all together, but those guys at the top of the order have really set the table for us. They drove the baseball all night long (on Monday) and got hits with runners on. That’s all you can ask for.”
However, Cunningham wasn’t done making a statement.
After Gabe Ruth notched a leadoff double, Aidan Andrews — the next batter up in the order for South Webster — looked to have an RBI single as Andrews shot a Tucker Williams pitch back up the middle of the diamond.
But like it was just a can of corn, Cunningham made sure that Ruth — a speedy and athletic center fielder in his own right — wouldn’t score as the junior threw the ball on a rope to gun the leadoff hitter down at the plate.
“Tanner’s got a great arm,” Crabtree said. “He really comes in, charges the ball hard, and does a really good job of making things happen there. The (throwout at home) was really just a perfect storm. The ball was hit hard enough to where he was able to get it and threw a strike to the plate. It was a really big boost for Tucker until he could find himself, because he hadn’t been on the mound where there have been rainouts and all of that sort of thing. That was a big out to get.”
While South Webster still obtained a run via a Braden Bockway sacrifice fly that scored Andrews, McClintic admittedly stated that the dart took the wind out of the Jeeps’ sails.
“We’ve done a good job getting right out of the gate this year,” McClintic said. “It’s just been about the defensive half of it. Gabe got a double for us to start off the game. It took the wind out of us a little bit when Cunningham gunned us down on a nice throw from center field, but we were still about to come back and put a run on the board. A couple of mistakes here and there, mixed in with a couple of shots on their end, put us back down a bit. That’s kind of been the thing for us all year. We got down early, due ourselves a hole, and just tried to play catchup the whole game. I believe that our guys are just feeling a lot of pressure, and mechanics and everything are going out the window when adversity hits. It’s just something that the guys are going to have to overcome.”
In the second, the Cunningham-Ashkettle duo struck again as back-to-back singles by Cayton Ruby and Blake Wood allowed Cunningham and Ashkettle to come up large. The former launched a two-RBI double to right, and the latter followed with a two-RBI single that landed just inside the foul line in shallow right field as Valley increased its advantage to a 5-1 tally after two innings of work.
As the Indians continued to produce up and down the lineup, Williams went to work on the hill. In his first significant mound time in a varsity contest this season, the senior struck out four batters, allowed just three hits, and gave up only a single run in four innings of work.
“It was a cool night tonight, so I didn’t want to push Tucker too far as far as his pitch count is concerned,” Crabtree said. “He’s got to come back later in the week and everything. We just wanted him to get some work in. He needed innings and time to just work a little bit. We’ll get worked up to where we can push him farther along in the game later on in the season, but he’s worked hard in his rehab to come back, and he’s thrown very well in his times out during practices and tonight. Hopefully, we can get the weather to cooperate and have some consistent games where we can set the rotation and get guys the consistent innings that they need.”
The defense, also, did excellent work throughout the affair. In fact, Valley committed only one error over the entire affair as the Indians made massive strides in that area.
“When we field the ball efficiently, we’re really good,” Crabtree said. “The more innings that we play, the better off that we’re going to be. We finally got some games in last week, and we got a game in tonight. Over the course of that time, the defense has already gotten a lot better and a lot more confident. We’re having fun because the guys aren’t playing as uptight. They have some varsity innings under their belts, and they’re looking pretty good.”
As Williams — and Ashkettle, who came on to pitch the fifth inning for the senior — continued to roll on the mound, Valley continued to extend its advantage.
A sacrifice fly RBI by Kayden Mollette that scored Andrew Andronis — who reached via a single in the third inning of action — allowed Valley to extend its lead to a 6-1 margin, and back-to-back-to-back singles from Ashkettle, Jesse Jones, and Andronis, along with an infield error and a fourth single from Cayton Ruby in the eight-hole, allowed Valley to take a 10-1 lead after five innings of work. A walk by Morrow, an RBI double from Ashkettle, and three additional walks from Devon Wiley, Nick Mowery, and Brecken Williams allowed Morrow and Ashkettle to score as Valley took a 12-1 lead after five-and-a-half innings of play.
“You can’t say enough about how we swung the bat tonight,” Crabtree said. “We worked the count, and there were a couple of times early on where we came up with some big two-out hits. We found a way to get guys in and score runs.”
To South Webster’s credit, however, the Jeeps didn’t relent. After an infield single by Bockway that basically served as a bunt, Billy Jones was hit by a pitch and Caleb Cunningham, along with Levi Murphy, drew walks as Bockway came around to score. Even after two consecutive punchouts by Trevon Donini, South Webster continued to strike as back-to-back walks by Gabe Ruth and Andrews, an RBI single by Jacob Ruth, and an infield error allowed the Jeeps to close within a 12-7 tally after six innings via the five free passes in the inning.
“There was some pretty good plate discipline there,” McClintic said. “That’s a big thing for a young team — not helping a guy out by swinging at pitches out of the zone. I thought that we did a good job and closed the gap there. They just came right back, put a few on the board, and killed our spirit.”
Valley, however, squashed any thought of a comeback effort with a six-run effort in the top of the seventh. A two-RBI double from Ruby, an RBI triple from Cunningham, and an RBI double from Jared Morrow were the main efforts as the Indians closed the deal in the same way that they started it — at the plate.
“The big inning that we gave up to South Webster is something that we’re going to have to eliminate,” Crabtree said, “but offensively, I was very proud of what we did at the plate.”
Now, both teams needed to simply get games in to grow their young units. The Jeeps play Green on Tuesday in Franklin Furnace, while Valley will take on Clay the same day in Lucasville as both units will attempt to grow as they go.
“We’re at the point now — where we lost so many games due to the weather — that I want these guys hitting every day,” Crabtree said. “I want these guys to keep seeing pitches at the plate and keep swinging the bats aggressively. The more innings they get and the more at-bats that they get, the better that these guys will be.”
“They’re giving good effort,” McClintic said. “I’m just asking them to stay the course and stay positive,” McClintic said. “This game can really tear you down and break you down if you let it get to you. The good thing is that we get to come out and play tomorrow, so we’re just going to keep playing and keep trying to get better.”