CHILLICOTHE — Over the course of the 2018 season, the Minford Falcons’ baseball program have put together some of the most incredible victories that one would ever hope to see.
A 9-8 victory over the Wheelersburg Pirates’ baseball program on a walkoff base hit by freshman nine-hole hitter Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis and a 5-4 victory over the Waverly Tigers’ baseball program in 12 innings where Minford overcame a 4-1 deficit in the top of the 12th to win after the Tigers were ruled to have not applied the necessary tag on Luke Lindamood at home plate.
However, Thursday evening’s Division III, Chillicothe I District Semifinal game may have topped them all.
After taking an early 1-0 advantage on a misplayed ball in the infield, the Crooksville Ceramics’ baseball program battled back against Minford, and made the Falcons sweat bullets as Crooksville tied the score in the top of the fifth frame, then took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth.
But in a fashion that has become typical of the 2018 Minford Falcons, the contest was just getting good.
After Lindamood drew a hit-by-pitch, Ethan Lauder rocketed a double to right field, and an intentional walk to Nathan McCormick allowed Reid Shultz to draw his own hit-by-pitch to tie the score.
And with the bases still loaded and nobody out, Payton Davis — the team’s lone senior starter — made good on the situation.
The infielder’s rocket of a grounder back up the middle of the diamond brought in Lauder standing up without a throw, and Minford, once again, took home a victory that eclipsed both of its thrillers from the regular season as the Falcons won, 3-2, in eight innings at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
In the midst of all of the madness, even the humble and quiet second-year coach Aaron Hopper had a hard time keeping anything but a smile on his face.
“We knew that we were going to have our hands full coming into this game,” Hopper said. “They’re way better than the No. 4 seed, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of seniors on that team, and we knew that it was going to be a dogfight to the end, so hat’s off to them, because they played eight great innings of baseball, and so did we. It was a great baseball game all the way around.”
As for Payton Davis, the game-winning base hit that the senior obtained was just a part of his teammates having the confidence in him to step up when needed.
“It’s big,” Payton said. “It’s extra innings, and we’re just looking for a spark. We loaded the bases up, and I knew that if could get a hit there, then the person behind me would be able to step up and do what is necessary for our team regardless of what happened, so it took the pressure off of me.”
From the outset, both units were able to generate offense from all parts of the order as Minford and Crooksville got at least one baserunner on in five of the eight innings played on Thursday evening.
However, effective defensive play, the pitching of Lauder and Crooksville’s Trey White, and in some cases, bad luck, proved to stymie much of the offensive momentum for both teams throughout the course of the affair. Lauder ultimately pitched effectively to contact by throwing seven innings of five-hit baseball, while White threw six-and-a-third innings of four-hit ball.
In the fourth frame, Minford ultimately struck with the opening salvo as back-to-back base hits from Lindamood and Lauder, along with a one-out sacrifice bunt from Shultz that moved both runners over to second and third base, resulted in a hard-hit ball by Payton Davis that was bobbled at first base, which scored Lindamood. However, the Falcons left the inning in a snakebit fashion as a sure base hit down the line by Bailey Rowe just nicked Davis’ pantleg as the ball went by, which forced the Falcons to settle for the one run after four innings of work.
“It’s been amazing,” Payton Davis said of the team’s resiliency through pressure. “I have never had a group of guys like this. I’ve never had a team where I can count on every single person on the unit to be behind me and each other.”
Crooksville, however, proved it was more than worthy of being at VA Memorial Stadium as the Ceramics counterpunched immediately. A leadoff single by Brady Brannon, a hit-by-pitch, and a bunt sacrifice by Mike Baughman that allowed Brannon and Colt White to advance to second and third allowed Caden Miller to cash in Brannon behind an infield single where Miller showed great hustle by sliding in safely at first base.
But despite hitting Landon Hinkle with a pitch to load the bases, Lauder effectively pitched out of danger again by getting Nick Headley to fly out to Darius Jordan in the shallow part of center field and forcing White to fly out to Brayden Davis in left to effectively work out of the inning without trouble.
“Ethan did a tremendous job for us,” Hopper said. “That’s a tough lineup to go through. Crooksville, one-through-nine, can pretty much swing the bat. It’s showing how much work he’s put into the offseason, and he’s doing a great job for us.”
After the Falcons put Rowe and Vogelsong-Lewis on in the seventh but couldn’t capitalize, the contest went to extra frames, where Crooksville immediately put the pressure on the latter in his relief appearance. Hinkle and Headley used back-to-back singles to put the Ceramics in a position to strike, and three batters later, Brock White launched a dart into left field to score Hinkle.
However, Brayden Davis quickly relayed the ball back into the infield, and Headley, who overran second base, got caught up in a rundown — which proved to be huge for Minford entering the bottom of the eighth inning.
“Some people may have thought that I was crazy for throwing Elijah today, but we had to play for this game,” Hopper said.
And despite the 2-1 deficit heading back into the dugout, the Falcons knew what they had.
“It’s funny, because you’d think you’d feel pressure in that situation to get the job done,” Hopper said. “For our coaching staff, however, we had confidence in all of our guys. There was a point in time where we thought about pulling Ethan early, but we ultimately had the confidence in him just to get an out for us. That’s the type of confidence that we’ve had all season. We just know that each guy is going to go up and give it their all in every at-bat, every pitch, every groundball or flyball, and every throw, and it showed today. The guys definitely gave it their best.”
When Lindamood drew his hit-by-pitch to reach, Lauder immediately sent the Minford faithful into a frenzy by shooting a rocket down the right field that went all the way to the right field fence. Within six pitches, the Falcons had turned another potentially negative situation into a situation where Minford — with no outs — could win the game with two fly balls.
But the Falcons didn’t even have to worry about that with the upcoming hands in their own.
After McCormick’s walk, Shultz, the steady utility hand for the unit, was nailed by a pitch, which clinched additional extra inning baseball, and set up a dream situation for the dependable Payton Davis in the seven-hole. Davis then proceeded to send every Minford player firing out of the dugout and every Minford fan to their feet with his rocket that passed a diving Brock White at second base to seal the victory.
“It’s really a testament to the work that Payton has put in and the work that he’s done to persevere,” Hopper said. “He deserves it, and I’m extremely happy for him. He’s battled for us all year long, and it doesn’t get any better than to have a senior in that situation, who’s stuck with it the whole time, step up and obtain the game-winning hit.”
“We just come through late, I guess,” Payton said. “We just play hard and don’t quit early. We just try to stay in the game over the entire time.”
With the victory, the Falcons will set up what should be a thrilling Division III, Chillicothe I District Final as the SOC II Champions will meet the Ohio Valley Conference Champions, Rock Hill, in the finals.
“Let’s hope we keep riding that crazy wave,” Hopper said before the second Chillicothe I District Semifinal between Rock Hill and West. “I know Rock Hill and West, especially West, is playing great baseball right now, and Rock Hill won the OVC, so we’re going to be in a fight either way. We’ve been there before, luckily. We’ll come out and try to play in the same great way that we did tonight.”