CHILLICOTHE — On a rainsoaked night, how fitting then that George Arnett was the Indians’ well which didn’t run dry.
Needing some refreshment from Fairfield’s four-run rally in the bottom of the sixth inning, and with the Lions’ tying and even go-ahead runs in scoring position with two outs, undefeated Valley went right back to its ace Arnett — to escape its most precarious position of its season so far.
What happened next shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially the strong contingent of Valley baseball supporters.
The junior Arnett, already relieved for once in the inning after the opening two batters and Fairfield’s first run, aimed and fired for his ninth strikeout —after he replaced freshman Jaekyn Ridout, who had replaced him just six Lions earlier.
Arnett’s strikeout of Noah Allering ended the Lions’ last, and best, threat of the entire game —as Carter Nickel notched a 1-2-3 seventh stanza, sandwiching two strikeouts around a pop-out right back to him on the mound.
The end result was the Indians’ undefeated season still intact, as Valley —spearheaded by three runs early and three insurance markers late —vanquished Fairfield for a quality 6-4 non-league victory on Monday night, and inside soggy VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe.
That’s correct, as the Indians —the reigning Region 15 champions and top-ranked team in ALL of Division IV per the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association statewide poll —remains undefeated at 10-0, as Valley played its first non-conference contest of the entire season.
It’s first nine games were all Southern Ohio Conference Division II tilts, and in which the Indians were winners of all nine — for the current league lead.
Monday marked as well their second game this season at VA Memorial Stadium, for Valley won over Oak Hill 4-1 in an SOC II makeup matchup two weeks ago.
These Indians also played two Division IV Southeast District tournament games there, having won last season’s district championship —en route to its state semifinal berth.
It’s possible that the Lions, which were ranked 14th in that same Division IV OHSBCA poll and are now 9-3, could face the Indians again —and it would likely be at either VA Memorial Stadium, or even in the regional tournament at Lancaster’s Beavers Field.
But any of that is to worry about in May, as the Indians —before a full week’s worth of SOC II bouts this week —opened the last week of April with quite the resume, and even confidence, builder.
The Indians’ 5-0 advantage evaporated into a slim 5-4 edge in the sixth, and with not one but two pitching changes in the inning, Valley stared serious adversity right in the face.
But Valley coach Nolan Crabtree, after Arnett’s pitch-count limit for Monday night was close to its 75 maximum, asked upon his hurler to return to the hill —and got the response he wanted.
With two outs and two Lions in scoring position, Arnett returned to pitch, faced his 23rd and final batter, and got that coveted third out via strikeout.
“I have to be careful this week with pitch counts and everything, playing five games in five days. You don’t want to burn this one off to not win the conference, but this was a big game sectional (Division IV Southeast District tournament) seeding-wise. I went out to George and I asked him if he could get this one (final out) for us. He said yes. And George just does what he does,” said Crabtree. “He wasn’t going over 75 pitches tonight, and he went right to it. Jaekyn (Ridout) got a couple of punchouts, but this was a tough spot I put him in, and he had a couple of bad-luck things go against him there. So George had a handful of pitches left, we went back to him, and we trusted him to get out of that inning. It worked out.”
That set up the Indians turning the tide back in their favor for the seventh — as Chase Morrow singled with one out to center, stole second, and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
With two outs, cleanup Chris Queen hit a ball towards right field —but where the infield and outfield turf turn distinct colors, and where the only remote defensive play which can be made is by the Fairfield first baseman.
He couldn’t get to it after going back for it, and it fell for an official basehit — as Morrow scored for his third and final run of the night.
It was also a massive insurance counter —making it 6-4, and putting even more pressure on the Lions in the bottom half.
But Nickel came in from centerfield, and emphatically slammed the door to gain the save.
“We scrapped across another one in the seventh, and that was a big run right there,” said Crabtree. “Carter got nice and loose and he came in and shut them down. George and Carter are a pretty tough combo when it comes down to it.”
Arnett ended up going five and one-third frames for the winners, while scattering seven hits — but only allowing the two earned runs right there in the sixth, plus no walks.
He faced four Fairfield batters apiece in innings one, three and five, retired the Lions 1-2-3 in the fourth, and stranded seven altogether.
The Indians’ only errors occurred on two throws, as once again their pitching and defense did their jobs —with an early offensive assault.
“We lean heavily on George and Carter, and Chris Queen has done a great job when he’s been in there as well. I put Jaekyn (Ridout) in a tough spot tonight, although for a freshman, he has done extremely well and has held down so many things,” said Crabtree. “We came out of the gates again with some good approaches at the plate and swinging the bats well. Everybody knows we’re a pitching and defensive team, but we have to make sure we support our guys enough on the mound.”
Valley did that early against Lion starter Jacob Morgan, sending eight batters to the dish in the first— and scoring three times before recording all three outs on two swings.
Arnett reached on a leadoff error, Morrow mashed a triple to right center to score Arnett, Tate Queen reached on an unsuccessful fielder’s choice, Chris Queen walked, and finally Landon Jones laced a single to center —crossing homeward Morrow and Tate Queen for a 3-0 lead only five at-bats in.
Although, Morgan didn’t allow another Indian hit until the fifth —when Morrow and Tate Queen singled back-to-back with one out, and ultimately combined those hits with a stolen base, a throwing error and a passed ball for two unearned runs.
That made it 5-0, before Cade Miller relieved Morgan after Jace Copley —who drew a first-inning Indian walk —singled to lead off the sixth.
Morgan also walked Ridout and Arnett back-to-back in the second, but stranded them when once again the Lions turned all three outs on two Valley swings.
Morrow went 3-for-4 as part of the Indians’ seven hits, and scored half of the Purple and Gold’s half-dozen points.
Crabtree, admittedly, wanted better at-bats after the opening inning —but agreed “a win is a win”.
“We really had a chance to jump on them and put them away early. We made a couple baserunning mistakes in the first two innings, but we fell into really poor quality at-bats. I wasn’t happy with our at-bats after the first, even though George (Arnett) was cruising along,” said the coach. “We put the ball in play and forced them into some mistakes, but we have to start making sure we’re grinding out at-bats a little longer.”
Speaking of a little longer, the Indians’ undefeated season spanned yet another day to 10 games — and one in which some character-building against a solid opponent on a neutral field served Valley indeed.
“This was a good quality team win when you face some adversity after you’re cruising along, but you’re able to recover and get things back going again,” said Crabtree.
* * *
Valley 300 020 1 — 6 7 2
Fairfield 000 004 0 — 4 10 3
VHS: George Arnett 5 1/3 IP, 2R, 2ER, 7H, 0HB, 0BB, 9K, 23BF; Jaekyn Ridout 2/3 IP, 2R, 2ER, 3H, 0HB, 1BB, 2K, 6BF; Carter Nickel 1IP, 0R, 0ER, 0H, 0HB, 0BB, 2K, 3BF
FHS: Jacob Morgan 5+IP, 5R, 2ER, 5H, 0HB, 4BB, 4K, 24BF; Cade Miller 2IP, 1R, 1ER, 2H, 0HB, 0BB, 3K, 8BF
W — George Arnett; L — Jacob Morgan; S —Carter Nickel
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved