MINFORD — Dream seasons are nothing new for Scioto County as a whole — there’s been plenty of them in a county full of rich sports tradition across each of its 12 county high schools.
And over the 2017-18 season, the Minford Local School system has already seen one dream campaign in its girls basketball program, who ran the table in the SOC II girls basketball realm and reached the Division III, Region 11 Semifinals.
However, that may not be the only special campaign that fans of the Red and White will see over the 2017-18 school year.
The Minford Falcons’ baseball program has had a litany of special performances just within the last week — including a walkoff base hit by Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis that allowed the Falcons to defeat the Wheelersburg Pirates by a 9-8 tally, and a thrilling pitching duel on Tuesday evening that went Minford’s way over Waverly by a 2-1 mark.
Wednesday evening’s bout between the Falcons and the Tigers, however, may very well take the cake over all of those performances.
Down 1-0 in the final half-inning of regulation play to Waverly, Vogelsong-Lewis’ two-out base hit to the outfield scored Nathan McCormick as the Falcons tied the score.
What ensued over the five extra frames that were played was a true classic of epic proportions.
After a brilliant 11-inning pitching performance by Ethan Lauder, the Tigers notched three runs in the top of the 12th frame despite the strong pitching velocity of Bailey Rowe to put Minford in a bind heading into the bottom half of the same frame.
However, the Falcons, as they have through the 2018 season, responded with a very special, resilient mindset.
Down 4-1 in the bottom of the 12th inning of play, a hit-by-pitch, an error, and a bunt single that Darius Jordan legged out allowed Luke Lindamood to drive in Vogelsong-Lewis with his bases-loaded walk. An RBI double to right center by Lauder then tied the game — and set up the craziest play of all.
With one down in the bottom of the 12th inning, Nathan McCormick hit a chopper over to third base, which was fielded cleanly and thrown home to Waverly’s Kayne Jordan at home plate. However, in a crazy sequence, Jordan was ruled to have never tagged Lindamood or have stepped on home plate for the force, and Minford, once again, won a one-run thriller, 5-4, in an SOC II battle that was played at Minford High School on Wednesday evening in Minford.
For second-year head coach Aaron Hopper, the victory was simply the definition of how hard his guys worked, and played, throughout the course of the 12-inning marathon.
“The fight in these guys is just incredible,” Hopper said. “We talked about giving 110 percent every time, and knowing that our hard work is going to pay off. That’s a big part of what goes into the resiliency that’s been seen on the field of play. And as young as we are, we’re acted pretty mature for our youth. It starts with our juniors (Jordan, Lauder, Lindamood, Payton Middaugh, and Chase Workman) and our lone senior (Payton Davis) going out and doing things right everyday, and setting the tone for us.”
Throughout the course of the affair, Lauder, along with Waverly’s Jake Reed, were simply outstanding on the hill as the duo battled back-and-forth through the first six innings of action. Reed ultimately threw five and one-third innings of scoreless baseball before giving way to Talon Osborne, while Lauder, in an absolutely gargantuan outing, threw 11 complete innings, gave up just seven hits, and, most amazingly of all, didn’t walk a single batter or give up an earned run during the bout. Waverly’s only run scored against Lauder — which was unearned due to an infield error — came on a 4-3 RBI groundout.
“Ethan’s really come along this year for us,” Hopper said. “He’s really come a long way this year for us, and has done a great job on the mound settling into his role. He had a big hit late, too, and that’s big for a guy who has struggled at times at the plate to still come up, in a big spot for us, and produce. He did a great job pounding the zone, and that’s all that we can ask of him. He had a lot of tough situations that he had to overcome, and he did. It shows what he’s made of, and it shows the toughness of him and this team, as a whole. I can’t say enough good things about his performance last night. There’s not many pitchers who can throw 117 pitches over 11 straight innings, and continue to throw as efficiently as he did.”
Minford, however, kept digging — even with the late one-run deficit heading into the final half-inning.
With one down, a well-hit baseball by McCormick was misplayed in center field, which allowed the sophomore to sail into second base. A 1-3 sacrifice bunt by Bailey Rowe then set up the table for Vogelsong-Lewis, with the freshman sending a blast to the outfield to score McCormick from third en route to recording his second clutch two-out hit in the bottom of the seventh inning in as many outings.
“It’s funny how that played out,” Hopper said. “That was kind of a flashback to Wheelersburg (last Friday), where we were in the exact same situation. The way we were swinging the bats (on Wednesday), I had confidence in everybody all the way up and down the lineup. We were hitting balls right on the nose, but they were just right at people. Sooner or later, one of those hits are going to fall, and luckily, Elijah’s did. That helped us continue to play some extra baseball.”
As Lauder and Waverly’s Talon Osborne — the latter coming on in relief of Reed during the middle of the sixth frame — dueled, both units weren’t able to get more than two runners on base until the top of the 12th inning when Rowe replaced Lauder. There, a walk, an error, and a bunt single loaded the bases with two outs, and Trevor Penrod followed with a two-RBI single that gave the Tigers a 3-1 advantage. Osborne’s sacrifice fly then scored leadoff hitter Ian Gillen to give Waverly a 4-1 advantage — an advantage that would have most teams packing it in.
Hopper and the Falcons, however, refused to accept defeat.
“Basically, it was about playing our game,” Hopper said of what he and his coaching staff told the team heading into the bottom of the 12th inning. “I didn’t want to make one game seem like our season, but at the same time, winning this game puts us in a good situation with the SOC II conference race, and it’s been 40 years since Minford’s won a conference championship. So it was basically, ‘If you’re going to sell out right now and if you’re going to give me everything you’ve got, it might as well be in this inning. We’ve made it this far because of how hard we’ve played. Let’s cap it off right here.’”
And when Vogelsong-Lewis was nicked by a pitch to begin the bottom of the 12th frame, it began a comeback to end all Minford comebacks.
Following Vogelsong-Lewis’ at-bat, a hard-hit ball by Brayden Davis was misplayed, and Jordan followed with an excellent bunt single that put three Waverly fielders in no-man’s land. A walk by Lindamood then allowed Vogelsong-Lewis to score as Minford cut the lead to a 4-2 margin.
Then, with the bases loaded, Lauder came up big once again. His RBI double, which carried all the way to the edge of the track as it tailed off toward right center, glanced off of Penrod, which allowed Davis and Jordan to score as Minford tied the game with nobody out — and had Lauder and Lindamood on second and third base, respectively.
“Our offense revolves around our top two guys,” Hopper said. “We get Brayden and Darius on, there’s a lot of moving parts that can happen, and that keeps the pressure on opposing defenses. That’s what we’ve tried to be about, which is just adding pressure to a defense. Whether it’s hitting a ball hard on the ground, or going on a ball in the dirt from a catcher having to block it, we’ll get to take second base or third base on something as simple as a ball in the dirt or a bunt. We just want to make the defense work a little bit. The more that the defense has to move, the more likely that they are to throw the ball away or make a mistake. That’s what our offense revolves around.”
Still, Waverly, after Payton Davis struck out, had a glimmer of hope. And when McCormick his chopper down the third base line, it looked as if more extra innings would be in store. But in a wild sequence, Lindamood, who slid home, was ruled to have never been tagged by Jordan, or even forced out as the senior was ruled to have straddled the plate. In a delayed call, the junior was ruled safe, which sent the Minford side into a frenzy and sent Jeff Noble, Jonathan Teeters, and the remaining Waverly coaching staff into a ballistic tirade against the men in blue.
“I didn’t even really see the play,” Hopper said. “As soon as I saw (Howell) field the ball and throw it home, and saw the throw being caught, I directed my attention over to first base to see if Waverly had a shot at doubling (Nathan) McCormick up down the line. I watched the throw down there and was paying attention to (Lauder) coming to third base to make sure that we didn’t get doubled up. Apparently, (Jordan) was straddling the bag, but didn’t touch the bag before (Lindamood) came across to score. In this game and in the Wheelersburg game, there have been plays at the plate that I have never seen in my entire baseball career, coaching, playing, or otherwise. It’s kind of crazy how those things happen, but somebody must’ve been looking out for us yesterday, because it turned out to be in our favor, not just this time, but the last time, as well.”
With the victory, Minford, who moved to 11-1 overall and 7-1 in SOC II conference action, has put itself in a great position to claim at least part of the SOC II conference crown. In fact, if Waverly and Wheelersburg split at least one game in their upcoming series on Friday and Monday, the 2018 crowd could become Minford’s, outright.
However, Valley, in addition to Minford’s remaining opponents, are no slouches, either. The Falcons meet the Indians for a second time in 2018 in a makeup of a game that was rained out on April 4.
“I’m hoping that we come out and, after a long game, find a way to win,” Hopper said. “We’re going to put our best lineup out there, hope for the best, and play baseball in an hard and aggressive manner like we know that we can.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT