CHILLICOTHE — The Valley Indians, simply put and once again, applied the same formula for winning their Division IV district championship game on Monday.
That’s because the Indians indeed got defensive and didn’t commit a single solitary error, and scored seven runs over the opening three innings —en route to capturing a solid 7-1 victory over the Huntington Huntsmen inside sunsoaked VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
The Indians also got lockdown pitching from sophomore George Arnett, who only allowed an earned Huntington run on four hits and a sacrifice fly in the top of the fourth.
Arnett’s complete-game gem performance saw him see the Huntsmen lineup three times through, as he scattered six hits and did not walk a batter — while striking out seven including his first four in consecutive fashion.
He had a perfect game going, in fact, through the first three innings.
For the Indians, it is their first district championship since 2018 —when they won the title as a Division III program.
Valley, in raising its record to 18-11 and as the top-seeded squad in the entire Southeast District Division IV tournament, advances on to the regional semifinals —which is exactly a week from Thursday.
The Indians, which scored an earned run in the first frame, added three more unearned points apiece in innings two and three —staking a 7-0 lead on all seven of their hits and all six of Huntington’s errors.
“We know if we go up to the plate with a good approach, hit it hard and put the ball in play, it forces the other teams to make plays. We did that and it worked out for us. We had good at-bats, put pressure on them, got George the lead and he knows how to pitch with a lead,” said Valley coach Nolan Crabtree. “We’re now getting production one thru nine in the order. We’re putting pressure on teams and making things happen.”
With Arnett in control on the mound, it sure felt like all the Indians needed was one or two runs.
They got jump-started on their initial at-bat, when Andrew Andronis led off with a triple to the right-field wall —and scored on the next at-bat when Hunter Edwards’ ground ball to second base resulted in an error.
“Andrew hitting the triple to the wall to lead off just took the pressure off and we were ready to go,” said Crabtree.
Indeed it did.
In the second, Valley added three two-out runs on three hits and two more Huntington miscues —as Chris Queen and Carter Nickel singled and bunt-singled respectively, combined with an error at first base.
With two outs, and on a dropped fly ball off the bat of Andronis, Queen and Nickel both scored —as an Edwards single to straight shallow center on the next at-bat brought Andronis around and in.
Finally, in the third, the Indians —off Huntington starting pitcher Dalton Black and not the injured ace Gavin Free —added three more runs on three more hits and three more Huntington errors.
Queen who reached on an error, Nickel who walked and Jace Copley who reached on an infield hit all scored —as Blake Wood singled to left to cross Nickel to make it 6-0.
At that point, Huntsmen headman Ed Yates relieved Black in favor of Braylon Leach, but Edwards —with one out —introduced him to the fray for an RBI-single which scored Copley.
The Huntsmen had four hits in the fourth, and even got their run on a Black sacrifice fly, but Arnett amassed his fifth strikeout and an important flyout —to leave the based loaded.
Arnett ended the game by facing four batters in the fifth, retiring the side again 1-2-3 in the sixth, and giving up two final hits in the seventh —including one by Free who came in to pinch hit.
But Arnett, on a line drive right back to him, assisted on a 1-3 double play to clinch the district championship.
“Our defense has been so solid, no matter who is on the mound. We’re playing really well defensively. And George (Arnett) just comes out in the first three innings and set the tone. He was what he has been all year. He has been super consistent all year long, he has been our best pitcher, and some of the time he has been our best player,” said Crabtree. “But every time he takes the ball, he gives us a chance to win, and that’s all I can ever ask of him.”
And, the Indians have done a lot of winning in the month of May.
Of course, none was bigger than winning Monday’s district championship —with the knowledge that a regional semifinal a week from Thursday now awaits.
“Man, it’s great to get back here and get this (district title). It’s been three years and after missing last year, our kids have just worked so hard to be ready to come back here,” said Crabtree. “We’ve battled some adversity at times, but my goodness they are playing well and believing in each other. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The Indians are now off for an entire week — before playing Paint Valley in the regional semifinals on Thursday, June 3.
First pitch is set for 2 p.m. at Lancaster’s beautiful Beavers Field, as the Bearcats clipped Meigs Eastern 9-8 in Monday’s other district final at VA Memorial Stadium.
Although the long layoff is not what Crabtree prefers, his Indians are still alive — and that’s all that matters come June.
“It’s a long break and that’s not ideal at all. But we’re going to come back and get after it and hopefully go win a regional title,” said the coach. “That’s where it’s at.”
* * *
Huntington 000 100 0 —1 6 6
Valley 133 000 X —7 7 0
HHS: Dalton Black 2 1/3 IP, 7R, 1ER, 6H, 0HB, 2BB, 2K, 18BF; Braylon Leach 3 2/3 IP, 0R, 0ER, 1H, 0HB, 4BB, 0K, 14BF
VHS: George Arnett 7IP, 1R, 1ER, 6H, 0BB, 1HB, 7K, 27BF
W —George Arnett; L —Dalton Black
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved