Bill Pim and his West Holmes Knights baseball team knew they weren’t going to roll through a rugged Ohio Cardinal Conference league schedule undefeated.
However, what they didn’t expect was to drop their first game of the season in such ugly fashion.
In a Tuesday, April 9 OCC showdown with rival Wooster, the Generals came out of the gates on fire, plating five runs in an error-marred top of the first inning that set the tone for a 15-3 rout of West Holmes.
It was just one of those nights for West Holmes that happen to every team during a baseball season.
What made it even tougher to take is that Knights’ ace Kendrick Wagler took the mound, and even Wooster head coach Steve Young was semi-shocked to see his team take advantage of Wagler and chase him in the second inning.
“I’m so glad he is a senior. He’s been one of the best pitchers in the OCC for the past couple of years,” Young said. “He’s so tough to compete against, and he comes at you from every angle, so we came in wanting to make him be patient and make him get his pitches up. We made him throw a lot of pitches, and we had a lot of quality at-bats tonight.”
For Pim, the loss and the way it took place is not the most important thing that can come from this game. He wants to see how his team will respond to suffering its first defeat of the season.
“It’s how we respond to something like this, that is what I want to see,” Pim said. “We got off to a rough start, and it went downhill from there. They are a good team, and they played well, and we gave away a lot of runs, and you can’t do that with a good team. I think we will bounce back quickly from this.”
Those quality at-bats Young referred to began in the first inning when Wooster was able to find the holes through the West Holmes infield.
Kristian Scalf drove a ball through the hole between short and third to start the game. He stole second and advanced to third on a ground out for out number two, and Wagler was looking to escape unscathed.
He wasn’t able to, not by a long shot. Henry Nebesky singled through the same hole that Scalf found to make it 1-0. Still, it was just a single tally, and there were two outs. However, Trevor Leighty got one up in the jet stream that sailed over Shane Jones’ head in center for a double to make it 2-0. The Knights then couldn’t field or throw the ball, committing three errors around a hit batter, and just like that it was 5-0.
“Even after that inning I felt like we were more than capable of coming right back and scoring plenty of runs with this offense,” Pim said.
However, they were facing an old nemesis in Wooster senior Trevor Meese, who did a good job of shutting down the Knights at West Holmes last year in a 4-3 Wooster win.
He would do so again, starting with a bit of a tough first inning that saw Wagler double and Shiloh Jones draw a two-out walk. Meese got Collin Reynolds to fly out to end the threat, and Wooster came back in and chased Wagler.
Tyler Pettorini started the second inning with a single, and Nebesky worked Wagler for a walk, bringing Pim to the mound to make a pitching change. Noah Clark came in, and after a sacrifice bunt, he allowed a pair of walks that forced in the sixth run of the game for Wooster.
Again West Holmes threatened on a Zander Proper single and a walk, but Meese worked his way out of trouble again to maintain the 6-0 lead.
Wooster tacked on another single tally in the third on a single from Jake Curren and an RBI base hit from Leighty. Clark worked through a scoreless fourth frame, and West Holmes finally got on the board in the bottom of the fourth on a Nick Morris double, followed by a Clark single to center.
Any hopes of a West Holmes comeback disappeared in the fifth inning when the Generals plated eight runs to take a commanding lead.
The inning featured five walks issued from Knights pitchers Grant Miller and Luke Vess, but the big blow came off the bat of Scalf, who stroked a grand slam, along with a two-run single from Meese.
Walks proved to be a costly detriment to West Holmes with Knights pitchers issuing 11 free passes on the evening.
“Too many walks. We aren’t going to win any games giving up 11 walks,” Pim said.
The Knights mounted one last-ditch effort to keep the game alive in the bottom of the fifth with Braden Allen’s single drawing West Holmes to within 15-3. However, with the bases loaded, Shane Jones flew out to center to end the game.
Young said it was good to see his Generals (6-3/3-2 in OCC play) pull away from a dangerous opponent.
“We have started out pretty quick in almost every game this year, and then we seem to hit a lull,” Young said. “We are trying to get the mind-set of winning every inning, and we did a good job of adding on once we got the big lead early.”
Young said he gave Meese the option of throwing on Tuesday at West Holmes or taking the mound at Wooster the following evening. Meese opted for the road start and enjoyed his second straight strong performance at West Holmes.
“I really like this mound and the environment here,” Meese said. “When we got up five runs early, that gave me some confidence that I could just go out and throw strikes and let my defense make plays. With that kind of a lead, it’s easier to stay relaxed and focused knowing I had my offense doing so well.”
One game earlier the Knights were able to put together a strong effort to down New Philadelphia 5-3. In that contest Reynolds toed the rubber and threw three solid innings, and it was the Knights who took command early with five runs scattered over the first three innings.
Clark came on in relief of Reynolds and fired three great innings, striking out six and walking just one. Wagler came on in relief in the seventh to pick up the save to improve West Holmes to 7-0 on the year.
At the dish Wagler doubled and drove in a pair of runs to lead West Holmes’ 10-hit attack.