If emerging victorious in close games is truly the sign of a good team, then the West Holmes Knights’ baseball team must be one of the best teams in Ohio.
With a huge host of close-game wins on their resume, the Knights added another one to the list on Tuesday, May 7 with a thrilling 3-2 victory over a talented Mt. Vernon team that still had its heart set on grabbing a piece of the Ohio Cardinal Conference title.
While they have won their share of tight ball games, the Knights had to have this one to keep pace with Lexington atop the OCC standings.
“These are the kinds of games you have to win,” head coach Bill Pim said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games this year, and I’ve said before, when you’re in a lot of close games and you’re successful, you know how to act, you know how to think and you don’t panic because you become more accustomed to it.”
In the must-win game, Pim turned to his star senior hurler Kendrick Wagler on the mound, and once again the senior delivered.
Wagler left a runner stranded in scoring position in the top of the first by getting a looking strike-out. The Knights then proceeded to load the bases with one out on a Wagler single, followed by two errors, but Yellow Jackets pitcher Trenton Kane got Bridger Cline to ground out to end the threat.
Noah Gleason led off Mt. Vernon’s second inning with a double, and Carson Carpenter plated the game’s first run with a single to put the Knights in a hole.
Neither team scored in the third inning, although Wagler did hammer a double in the third inning, leaving MVHS up 1-0 through three.
The Yellow Jackets then threatened to blow the game wide open in the fourth. Noah Hubbard and Gleason raked singles, and after a sacrifice bunt moved them up a base, Jack Davidson delivered a run-scoring single, leaving runners on the corner with one out. Again Wagler dug deep and recorded two huge strike-outs to keep the Knights close.
His teammates quickly gave him even more reason to hope in the bottom of the inning. Three straight singles by Cline, Chase Booth and Nick Morris loaded the bases with nobody out. Pim went to his bench and called upon senior Collin Reynolds, who stepped in and slashed a two-run single to tie the game at 2-2. The Knights would take their first lead at 3-2 when Luke Vess singled.
“I’ve always said games come down to producing with runners on second and third with two outs and coming up with that key hit,” Pim said. “Collin came through with a huge hit, and we were able to get out of a couple of those situations.”
Now with Reynolds on third and pinch runner Tyler Gallion on second, the Knights were looking for more. With the Mt. Vernon infield drawn in, Wagler hit a rocket right down the first base line. What looked like a ball bound for the corner was snagged by Gleason at first, and he stepped on the bag for the out, but Gallion had made a beeline for third, even as Reynolds went back to the bag. The Yellow Jackets got Gallion in a rundown, and eventually Reynolds tried to race home but was easily thrown out for the inning’s final out.
Now with the lead, West Holmes faced a monumental challenge in the fifth inning. With one out Wagler hit a batter and then got a force out to leave a runner on first with two outs. Hubbard then smoked a ball down the right-field line, and with Jaxon Snyder off with the pitch, the race was on. Knights’ right fielder Shiloh Jones flew to the line and managed to cut the ball off and quickly get it back into the infield to hold Snyder at third. It was the kind of play that never makes it into the headlines but one that probably saved the day for the Knights.
“A heck of a play,” Pim said of Jones’ race to cut the ball off on the line. “He has worked so hard and waited for his time. He just needed confidence, and he is playing with it now, and he’s having a great season.”
Pim opted to walk the dangerous Gleason, bringing Carpenter to the plate. Carpenter launched a bomb to right that Shiloh Jones was able to haul in on the run to end the threat.
Once again the Knights came in and put up a threat. Fresh off of his two big plays, Shiloh Jones laced a single to left center but was erased on a fielder’s choice by Zander Proper. After a strike-out Chase Booth singled, and a wild pitch moved the runners up, but Kane got Morris to swing and miss on a full-count pitch to end the inning.
Sophomore Nate Ginsburg relieved Wagler to begin the sixth, and he flew through the inning, and West Holmes failed to score, stranding another runner at third.
That meant the Knights were three outs away from staying atop the OCC. Ginsburg got a strike-out but then allowed the tying run on first, courtesy of a free pass. However, he bore down, got a routine pop out to Cline at second before he recorded the final out on a towering pop out to Proper at short.
“I knew I just had to go in and throw strikes because I believe in our defense and they have made plays all year,” Ginsburg said.
As for his head coach willing to turn to a young first-year varsity sophomore in such a clutch situation, he said, “I’m glad I am pitching with coach’s trust in me in these types of situations.”
“Kendrick has given us a strong five innings all year, and our coaches agreed that we were going to turn the ball over to our best at that point in the game, and we had every confidence that Nate would do the job as he has all year,” Pim said. “[Ginsburg] throws strikes. He has a great head on his shoulders, and he has worked very hard to get where he is.”