Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to a competitor and say, “job well done.” That was the case for the West Holmes Knights when they faced Lexington in a key OCC baseball game at West Holmes High School Tuesday, May 2.
In what amounted to a huge game in Ohio Cardinal Conference play between two teams in the upper echelon, the West Holmes Knights did not come away with the effort they had been hoping for against a blossoming Lexington team.
Lex got a dominant performance from right-hander Jared Strickler, who tossed a complete-game five-hitter that helped the Minutemen defeat the Knights 6-1.
“We didn’t play well, they got a good effort on the mound and we simply didn’t deserve to win this game,” said West Holmes coach Bill Pim. The Knights have been playing at such a high level that a game like this is going to come along, but the West Holmes coach said that is no excuse. “We expect to play with a better effort than what we gave tonight,” Pim said. “We need to make plays we’re supposed to play and had a poor performance overall.”
The game took on a good look for Lex from pitch one, when Strickler went to work and started carving up West Holmes hitters.
Even Pim had to admit that Strickler was a driving force in the outcome of the game.
“He was really good tonight,” Pim said of Strickler. “He mixed is pitches up and threw hard. I don’t know where they keep coming up with these kids. Hunter Biddle was their ace and he got hurt, so in steps this kid, and he does an amazing job.”
Strickler gave up a lead-off single to Slade Barnes to start the game and then settled in nicely until the third, when Brody Beckett swatted a double and Barnes drove him in, producing the lone West Holmes run.
“I felt like I was on and really hitting my spots,” Strickler (5-1) said of his mound effort. Strickler took command early and worked himself into a beautiful rhythm where he worked quickly and smoothly, getting the ball, setting up and letting it fly. “I tried to through strikes and work quickly to let my defense work behind me,” Strickler said. “We’ve got a good one, so why not.”
Lexington would get to Knights’ starter Jake Donaldson in the top of the third with three straight hits and a Knights’ error that opened the door. In the second inning Donaldson escaped a jam when the Minutemen tried a suicide squeeze bunt that Donaldson read, throwing a nearly untouchable pitch low and away that catcher Erik Hanna smothered, gobbled up and then chased down the Lex base runner coming in from third.
Lex plated two more runs in the sixth on three hits to chase Donaldson, then tacked on an insurance run in the seventh.
But this night belonged to Strickler, who allowed just two base runners after the third inning.
Pim said that the Knights should have done a better job of trying to break his rhythm. Strickler allowed just five hits while striking out 10 Knights on the evening.
The West Holmes skipper said that when the approach at the plate is what the Knights put forth, hitting a good pitcher becomes an even tougher task.
“We swung at balls we shouldn’t have swung at and took pitches we should have been hitting,” Pim said. “We had a bad approach at the plate tonight and it hurt us.”
The game pitted two of the OCC better teams, with Lexington now at 13-7 and the Knights standing at 12-8. West Holmes had won 9-of-11 games coming into the contest and was playing at a very high level of play.
Lexington head coach Kevin Morrow said a rash of arm injuries has hampered his Minutemen this season, but as of late the team is getting healthier and rounding into the kind of form he wants to see at tournament time.
“Early on our pitching staff was lights out but we developed some arm injuries and had a couple key members who had to sit out, but we are getting healthy again at the right time,” Morrow said. “We were fortunate tonight to get a couple of key two-out hits and put some pressure on a tough West Holmes team. We did enough to put ourselves in good shape and sealed the deal late with a nice inning.”