LUCASVILLE — The Valley Indians are looking to make this week’s trips to Lancaster a two-day affair and come away with the program’s first regional baseball championship since 1977.
Beavers Field in Lancaster is the host site for this year’s Division IV regional semifinal between the Indians and Paint Valley on Thursday and also Friday’s D4 regional final.
Howard East Knox and Berlin Hiland will play in Thursday’s second regional semi game set to begin at 5:00 p.m. as the winner of Valley-PV will await the winner in the championship.
The trip from Lucasville to Lancaster isn’t an unfamiliar one for Indians fans, including head coach Nolan Crabtree and his players.
“Beavers is a wonderful facility,” Crabtree said. “I remember watching the regionals there in 2012 when Valley lost to Berlin Hiland. I’ve watched many legion games there and many of our kids have had the opportunity to play there, so it won’t be totally new. We’re very fortunate in the Southeast District to have places like Beavers and the V.A .to host games for our kids. It’s a great experience.”
The Indians’ 7-1 win over Huntington in a Division IV district championship made for the second district crown in Crabtree’s tenure as head coach and first in the OHSAA’s small-school division for the Valley program since 2012.
A win for Valley (18-11) over Paint Valley would give the Indians baseball program its’ first win at the regional stage since 1992 (Valley d. Wheelersburg 6-4) and keep them in contention for the program’s first trip to state since they were regional champions in 1977 and Class A State Champions in 1975.
For the Indians to be successful against the Bearcats, Crabtree says they’ll need to continue with what’s gotten them to this point — defense, pitching, and scoring timely runs.
“As the year has progressed our recipe for success has been pretty clear — pitching and defense carry us and we have begun to manufacture runs,” Crabtree said. “That is something we struggled with throughout the year as we had multiple close losses. George Arnett has five pitching losses and has given up eight earned runs in those losses. With the way we have pitched and played defense, getting 3-5 runs has been the key to victory.”
In the other dugout, Paint Valley is a team that also relies heavily on its’ pitching.
Bearcats senior pitcher Brock Blanton — an Eastern Kentucky University signee — pitched a complete game in their 5-1 road win over Clay in last Saturday’s (May 22) district semifinal win.
In their 9-8 win over Eastern Meigs in the district final last Monday — their program’s third district title in seven seasons — Paint Valley rallied from a 5-0 deficit through 2.5 innings to earn their spot in the regionals in Lancaster.
Putting the ball in play against Blanton, or whoever the Bearcats decide to throw, will be a key in the Indians attempt to reach Friday’s regional final, Crabtree says.
“They’re very reliant on their pitching. Brock Blanton has been their rock. He’s a division one pitcher for a reason. But they have been similar to us in the hitting department at times. For us, we have to put the ball in play on the ground and make them play defense,” Crabtree said. “We will struggle to win if we strike out 10 or more times. Having said that, I feel great about what we have been able to do offensively lately. We have some young players coming into their own with their first year as varsity players.”
Two of Valley’s starters — shortstop Andrew Andronis and first baseman Breckon Williams — will be playing in their second regional semifinal game this season after winning a district title during their freshman season in 2018.
The pair know what to expect at the regional stage and are seemingly locked in to do what it takes to reach the D4 state tournament with just two more wins.
“Winning district was a huge goal for us and now we need to treat that as a building block for what we have to do these next couple weeks,” Andronis said. “We are very focused on what we have to do. We are treating every practice as if it’s are last and are pushing each other every day because we know we can continue to play into Akron.
“I feel like getting to state is an easy accomplishment. We have the potential like no other and we are coming together as a team at the perfect time,” Williams said. “We’re on a mission.”
The layoff between their district final win over Huntington and Thursday’s regional semi against Paint Valley will be 10 days by the time of first pitch, but Crabtree and the Indians have done their best to stay loose during their off-stretch.
This includes a non-league contest between Minford and Valley at Minford’s home field on Tuesday as a tune-up of sorts for both teams preparing for their respective regional tournaments.
“I gave the boys a few days off to decompress. They had a very emotional week — high pressure games with graduation sandwiched in between,” Crabtree said. “We took a few days off and have been back on the field since last Thursday just trying to maintain. We’ve been able to get a lot of swings, ground balls, and some bullpen work.”
First pitch between Valley and Paint Valley is set for 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 3 at Lancaster’s Beavers Field.
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved