LANCASTER — A two-run first inning and a complete game shutout on the mound by sophomore George Arnett helped the Valley Indians ace their Division IV Region 15 semifinal against Paint Valley.
Those expecting a low-scoring pitcher’s duel got what they envisioned at Beavers Field in Lancaster on Friday as the Indians won 2-0 and punched their ticket into Saturday’s D-IV regional final.
It’s Valley’s 11th win in 11 tries against opponents in the OHSAA’s small-school division as they’re now out-scoring D-IV opponents 81-21 in those contests.
“I’d love to stay undefeated against D4 teams because that means we’ve done something pretty special,” Indians coach Nolan Crabtree said smiling, after the win.
The win is Valley baseball’s first win at the regional stage since 1992 when they defeated Wheelersburg (6-4) and first under Crabtree’s guidance.
Next, they’ll play for the third regional title in program history against the winner of Berlin Hiland and Howard East Knox.
“It means a ton to me being a Valley alumni, a kid that wore this uniform and played for Coach (Dean) Schuler, had an uncle that was on the state championship team — this is part of who I’ve been growing up. It’s about these kids, our community, and how they play out here and play for each other,” Crabtree said, of winning at the regional stage. “It’s been a special ride, I love them to death and appreciate everything they do.”
A couple of Paint Valley runners in the first inning didn’t phase Arnett in his complete game effort, as they rarely have all season.
In seven innings of work, Arnett issued only one walk, allowed six hits, and struck out five — leaving each of those seven runners stranded in the 83-pitch shutout.
“Once again he (Arnett) was our rock. Even when they get a couple guys on, he makes it look like nothing. He continues to execute his game-plan, makes pitches,” Crabtree said. “We knew with Brock Blanton (EKU signee) pitching it could take three runs, but the way George threw today, all we needed was one.”
A leadoff double by Andrew Andronis to center field off Paint Valley’s Brock Blanton got the Indians on the board in the hit column in the first and it was his fellow senior, Breckon Williams, who would give them the early lead.
Williams battled through a 9-pitch at-bat and managed an opposite field one-out single up the left field line to score Andronis from second and put Valley ahead 1-0.
Battling through pitches and staying open to balls on the outer part of the plate is something Williams has worked on in the lead-up to their meeting with the Bearcats.
“That at-bat by Breckon (Williams) was a phenomenal at-bat. They were throwing him away, breaking balls, change-ups. We’ve played SVC teams all year and he struggled the first couple of times when they did that. Today, he knew it was going to happen and did a good job of fighting and hitting that RBI up the left field line.”
Arnett hit his team’s second double of the first inning from his cleanup spot in the Indians’ lineup, scoring Williams all the way from first base and putting Valley ahead 2-0.
Hunter Edwards and Andronis had a single and double respectively as part of Valley’s 5-hit effort, but the two runs scored in the first remained enough to get the job done.
Valley will face the winner of Berlin Hiland and Howard East Knox on Saturday with a 3 p.m. first pitch back at Beavers Field. It will begin following the conclusion and awards ceremony of the proceeding Divsion III Region 11 final between Minford and the winner of Frederickstown-Barnesville.
Both BH and EK are expected to throw their top pitchers in their own regional semi, as did Valley and PV in the matinee contest.
A win would give Valley its’ first regional championship since 1977 as Crabtree says he’s looking forward to his kid’s opportunity to compete on another big stage.
“Going to sit around and watch this next game and see what we think. Obviously it won’t be the pitcher we face tomorrow, but we’re going to see how to pitch guys and what we’re looking at. Really excited for our kids to have a chance to do something special,” he said.
Paint Valley: 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 6 0
Valley: 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 2 5 0
W: Arnett (V), L: Blanton (PV)
Andrew Andronis 2-3, R
Hunter Edwards 1-3
Breckon Williams 1-3, R, RBI
George Arnett 1-3, RBI
Paint Valley hitting
D. Estep 1-3
B. Blanton 1-2, BB
C. Miller 1-3
D. Spradlin 1-3
C. Norman 2-3