MINFORD — With the crowd on hand for the Minford Invitational Track Meet, the softball game next door, and a matchup between the defending SOC II co-champions in 2019, Minford Middle School and the Falcon Athletic Complex was undoubtedly the place to be in Scioto County on Friday night.
Using a five-run sixth inning, the Minford Falcons baseball team bested visiting Wheelersburg 6-2 under the lights in their first meeting of 2021 and first time meeting as defending league champs.
After the Falcons evened things up 1-1 in the bottom of the third, neither side managed to plate a run until that five-run sixth — both teams leaving a number of runners stranded in that scoreless stretch.
Minford (6-2, 5-1 SOC II), now winners of four-straight games including wins over Waverly and West in SOC play earlier this week, finished their week with the win over the Pirates — one that Falcon coach Anthony Knittel believes will pay dividends, both in the league race and for his team’s varsity playing experience.
“Since I’ve been coaching here that was probably the most impressive crowd we’ve had. Got behind the kids and that’s what it’s all about. We put them on the stage against a very good team, under the lights, I mean that’s every kid’s dream,” Knittel said. “This moment and pressure situation, thought they really handled themselves well and they’re going to continue to learn and get better.”
Each team collected six hits apiece in the affair with just one error committed in the field of play — a Pirates’ throwing error on a fielded bunt that went up the third base line and scored Minford’s go-ahead run in the sixth.
A pair of fielder’s choices followed by RBI singles by Matthew Risner and Grant Wheeler opened up Minford’s lead with just one more Pirate hitting opportunity in the game.
“I don’t want to say that we gave them runs. But we walked a couple early in the sixth, had an error, and a close play at the plate,” Wheelersburg coach Derek Moore said, after the game. “Feel like we maybe expended too much of our energy in the first five innings and the wheels started to fall off. Tip of the cap to Minford, they’re a good team and Elijah was lights out on the mound.”
Falcons senior Elijah Vogelsong-Lewis pitched six complete innings in the winning effort, allowing six hits, four walks, and striking out nine ‘Burg hitters.
In the fourth through sixth innings when the game was tied, Vogelsong-Lewis and Minford’s defense stranded six Pirate runners.
Sophomore Noah Martin took over on the mound after EVL reached his pitch count with no outs in the seventh, allowing no earned runs and no hits in relief of his teammate’s “bulldog” performance on the hill, inducing the game-ending 4-6-3 double play.
“That’s a bulldog, gutsy performance. He pounded the strike zone and Wheelersburg was able to get some guys on, walked some,” Knittel said. “He got a little amped up and it was hard not to with the atmosphere. Thrilled for Noah Martin, a sophomore with a very bright future. That’s a big situation, big game, and the kid rose up in the moment.”
The Pirates took the game’s initial lead with an RBI single by Hunter Thomas in the second and scored one in the seventh on an RBI walk by Chase Conley, but the game-ending ground ball double play ended their comeback chances.
The loss is Wheelersburg’s first in SOC II play in five tries, but isn’t something Moore is looking to dwell on.
After all, the Pirates (6-2, 4-1 SOC II) are set to host Chillicothe on Saturday in non-league play and travel to Waverly on Monday in a pivotal league matchup.
As of Friday night, each of the SOC II’s top-four (Minford, ‘Burg, Waverly, Valley) have one loss in league play, meaning the race for the 2021 league title is most certainly still up for grabs in early April.
“Just from the SOC opponents we’ve played so far, it’s not going to be a cake walk,” Moore said. “Everybody’s playing good baseball and the good thing about the game is that we get to play again tomorrow. We can still control our own destiny, they still have to come to our place and we get to play everybody again. Can’t hang your head too long because the next opportunity is coming quick.”
The Falcons will be looking to build off Friday’s win and their current four-game streak with an upcoming trip to face Valley on Monday.
“Credit to Wheelersburg, that’s a great team and Coach Moore is a great coach surrounded by great coaches,” Knittel said. “We knew it was going to be a dog fight and I thought our guys played consistent. We fought from pitch number one to the end, everyone bought into their roles and we were able to come out on top.”
Wheelersburg 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 — 2 6 1
Minford 0 0 1 0 0 5 X — 6 6 0
W: Vogelsong-Lewis (M), L: Robson (W)
Vogelsong-Lewis (M): 6IP, 6H, 2ER, 9Ks, 4BB
Martin (M): 1IP, 0H, 0ER, 1K, 2BB
Robson (W): 5.1IP, 4H, 3ER, 3Ks, 3BB
Thomas (W): 0.2IP, 2H, 3ER, 0Ks, 0BBs
Grant Wheeler 2-4, 2B, RBI, R
Adam Crank 1-4, RBI
Branson Alley 0-2, R, BB
Cole Borland 1-2, R, BB
Noah Martin 0-1, R, BB
Levi Coriell 0-3, R, RBI
Aodhan Queen 1-2, RBI
Matthew Risner 1-3, R, RBI
Case Dyer 0-3, R
Cooper McKenzie 1-3
Ethan Ison 1-3, R
Mason Montgomery 0-2, 2BB
Chase Conley 2-3, RBI, BB
Hunter Thomas 1-2, RBI, BB
Creed Warren 1-3
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved