The schedule-makers in the Ohio Cardinal Conference did the West Holmes Knights no favors when they tabbed double-headers with difficult foes in Ashland and Mt. Vernon to end the conference schedule.
So when the Knights dealt favorite Lexington a pair of losses to begin the season and then started rattling off wins, head coach Bill Pim and his team knew they still had plenty of work to do.
A split with Ashland in late April left them tied with Lexington, which had not lost a league game since the Knights took them down. Then came two knee-shaking contests with the Yellow Jackets. The first ended in a 3-2 victory for the Knights, meaning the team’s hope of capturing an OCC league baseball crown for the first time in school history would come down to the final day of the conference schedule.
Having to travel to Mt. Vernon on Wednesday, May 8, the Knights mustered their courage and skills and came out as a 5-4 winner in a game that, much like it has all season, came down to the final out. At least a share of the league title was going to WHHS.
“I am so proud of these young men and the job they did within a very good conference,” Pim said. “I think out of our 10 wins in the conference, seven of them were tight ball games. We have played a ton of close games this season, and when that happens, it is going to help you deal with the pressure of being in them when it matters the most.”
It mattered a lot on this night, and for a while it appeared as though it wasn’t going to be a one-run game.
West Holmes kept inching forward in the scoring column, plating a run in the first when Shane Jones walked, stole second and came around on Kendrick Wagler’s RBI single. The Knights got a second run in the second inning when Nick Morris singled and Braden Allen pinch-ran and stole second and tore home on a Luke Vess RBI single.
Ginsburg was handed the ball in this key contest, and the West Holmes starter was rolling, mowing down the Yellow Jackets. In the fifth inning West Holmes added two more runs when Wagler doubled, Shiloh Jones singled him to third, and Zander Proper and Chase Booth each cashed in with RBI singles to make it 4-0. That lead could have been even bigger, but Shane Jones’ bases-loaded smash to the gap in right center was caught in spectacular fashion to keep Mt. Vernon within reason.
Things changed in the bottom of the fifth when Mt. Vernon scored three times to trim the deficit to one run. It began with a perfectly placed bunt and a couple of singles. That chased Ginsburg, and on came Chase Booth. Mt. Vernon tried a squeeze bunt and failed, but Shane Jones came in on a fly ball and tried to throw it home before he had secured it. It fell for an error, and another hit made it 4-3.
Neither team mounted a threat in the sixth, and in the seventh the Knights recorded a huge insurance run. Ginsburg singled, and Michael Miller pinch-ran and then darted all the way home on Shane Jones’ long single to right center to make it 5-3.
In the seventh Mt. Vernon mounted a last-gasp effort to tie or win the game, scoring one off of Booth and putting two runners on. Pim brought in hard-throwing freshman Noah Clark, who got to two strikes and then had to work harder than ever to record an out, watching as four foul balls were driven out of play. Eventually he went with the high heat, got the batter to chase and the Knights had their win.
“Noah came in, and we decided to throw all fastballs and challenge the hitter,” Pim said. “He just kept pumping them in there, and it was pretty intense. The kid had a great at-bat, but Noah went upstairs and blew a high-heater past him.”
Pim said he realized the two early wins against Lex were huge, but he said he never thought it would be their only two losses. As for earning the school’s first conference baseball title in the OCC and first overall since 1992, Pim said it was a great feeling.
“It just adds to the accomplishments and the confidence of this team,” Pim said. “It’s one more building block. I think playing great competition and playing so many close games has helped us play loose and easy when the pressure is on. We want our kids to realize that we want to win, but even if we don’t, it isn’t the end of the world. We are playing a game, and it should be fun. We are going to go out and give it everything we have and see what happens. Our kids have grown to accept that, and they have played extremely hard and worked at the games, so this championship is for them because they deserve it.”