LANCASTER — What do two complete game victories by your sophomore starting pitchers and a 7-2 combined margin of victory get you?
For the Valley Indians, it got them two wins in this year’s Division IV, Region 15 tournament and the program’s first regional championship since 1977.
In a span of roughly 26 hours, the Indians earned wins over Paint Valley and over perennial state power Berlin Hiland at Lancaster’s Beavers Field to punch their ticket into next week’s D-IV state tournament.
Valley (20-11) defeated Hiland 5-2 on Saturday, never trailing at any point in the contest to claim the program’s fifth regional crown (‘65, ‘66, ‘75, ‘77).
An elated Indian coach Nolan Crabtree said the experience of being the first Valley baseball club in 44 years to reach state was, “humbling”.
“We’ve had some great, great teams and some great players come through,” Crabtree said, afterwards. “It’s humbling to be the coach and the team that did it.”
Entering the “Elite 8” matchup, Hiland (27-5) hadn’t surrendered a run in their entire postseason run. It didn’t take the Indians long to buck that trend.
A single by George Arnett scored senior Andrew Andronis after Andronis reached on a leadoff HBP, giving the Indians a 1-0 lead and BH’s first deficit in the postseason.
An RBI triple by Casey Lowe in the third tied the game at 1-1, but strong pitching and defense by the Indians ended BH’s threat to do more damage in the third and fourth frames.
Indians sophomore Carter Nickel had seven punchouts in the complete game victory — three of which came as inning ending Ks to strand Hiland runners on base.
For the game, they stranded 11 Hawk runners including six combined in the third and fourth innings. When Hiland threatened, Valley responded by getting out of the jam.
“Carter (Nickel) has been right there with George (Arnett) all year, been so solid and so good. Late after we got out of those jams, told him we’ve got to work ahead. He did and the thing with Carter, he’s got good velocity on his fast ball and when it gets it up in the zone, he gets a lot of fly balls,” Crabtree said. “We wanted that, wanted them to hit it in the air and have us go chase it down. Andronis, Chase Morrow, Hunter Edwards all did that today.”
Arnett kept his hot-bat alive, driving in two more Indian runs on a two RBI double in the bottom of the third to make it 3-1.
The sophomore finished his two-game stint at Beavers 3-of-7 with four RBI of the Indians’ seven runs scored in their two victories.
“George has scolded some balls for us. We didn’t get a run in early, and he comes out with a two out double,” Crabtree said. “Play in the first inning, miscommunication on their part but that’s what happens when you put the ball in play and make things happen.”
An RBI single by Reece Schlabach in the fourth cut Valley’s lead to 3-2. The Indians got their fourth run when Hawks relief pitcher Nolan Yoder balked to score Nickel from third in the home half of the fourth.
“The balk was a called play. Get behind 0-2 first and third with two outs, that’s what we want to have happen. We wanted as he’s coming set, our guy to break and catch him by surprise,” Crabtree said. “He didn’t come off and turn and it got us a run.”
An RBI single by sophomore Hunter Edwards scored senior Blake Wood with two outs after Wood singled for the second time in his three at-bats.
Again, Hiland hadn’t surrendered a run in their first four postseason games prior to their loss to Valley, including in Friday’s 8-0 win over Howard East Knox.
Crabtree said the preparation his team endured in their non-league and Southern Ohio Conference Division II regular season schedule helped prepare them for any pitcher they might face in their run for a regional title.
“I feel like we possibly faced the toughest pitcher (Brock Blanton) in the region yesterday. Toughest guy that we could have faced. We got through that one and we knew what they (Hiland) were going to come at us with, and I just felt great,” Crabtree said. “Our league prepared us so well. We had arms every night, top-to-bottom in our league that had us ready. Velocity wasn’t the same, our approach was great and our kids just hit the ball. Did a great job executing today.”
Nickel neared his pitch count in the 7th and really the entire back-half of the game, but didn’t manage to hit it.
After throwing roughly 90 pitches in the game’s first four innings, Nickel and the Indians’ defense shutout the Hawks in their final three rounds of at-bats and closed the door on any possible comeback attempt.
A game-ending flyout to Edwards in right field would-have been — and was — Nickel’s last batter faced in his 123-pitch outing.
“We knew it was close. That was going to be his last hitter. Told him to throw strikes, let your defense play and that’s what happened,” Crabtree said.
The ensuing dog-pile on the pitcher’s mound and trophy celebration was 44 years in the making since the Indians last trip to the state tournament in 1977 and 46 years since the program’s only state championship in 1975.
Crabtree embraced 34-year Valley coach Dean Schuler in the celebration on the field after the win and said Schuler’s support since he took over has been nothing short of extraordinary.
“I followed a legend in southeastern Ohio baseball. Coach (Dean) Schuler has been as supportive and as helpful and as gracious in helping us to get where we are today. I look at what he’s done, for him never to have gotten this far is humbling to me. To see him here supporting me and supporting our kids, that’s what it’s about,” Crabtree said. “Our community is supportive — we had everyone behind us and you felt that during the game.”
Valley will face Van Wert Lincolnview (23-8) in a Division IV State Semifinal on Friday, June 11 at Akron’s Canal Park with first pitch scheduled for 10:00 a.m.
The winner will face the winner of Fort Loramie (27-3) and Warren John F. Kennedy (19-6) in the Division IV state championship game on Saturday, June 12 at 4:00 p.m.
Two wins away from a state title is something “kids dream about”, and the kids from Lucasville will be dreaming about this opportunity until Friday arrives.
“Pitching, defense, and if our bats keep swinging we’re going to be just fine. I’m really excited for our kids and community to get this opportunity because it doesn’t happen very often,” Crabtree said. “It’s something these kids dream about and for them to get to live this, after not having a season last year, it’s special.”
Berlin Hiland: 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 — 2 8 1
Valley: 1 0 2 1 0 1 X — 5 12 0
W: Carter Nickel (V), L: Derrick Troyer (BH)
Berlin Hiland hitting
Jared Hostetler 0-2, R, 2BB
Case Lowe 1-4, RBI
Reece Schlabach 2-4, RBI
Isaiah Miller 0-3, BB
Nolan Yoder 2-3, BB
Collin Lowe 1-3
Derrick Troyer 1-4, R
Grant Miller 1-3, BB
Andrew Andronis 2-3, 2R
Hunter Edwards 1-3, RBI
Breckon Williams 1-3
George Arnett 2-4, 3RBI
Chase Morrow 2-3
Carter Nickel 2-3, R
Blake Wood 2-3, 2R
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