RACINE, Ohio — The Eagles were in no mood to share.
The Eastern baseball team defeated Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division host Southern by a 11-4 tally on Friday at Star Mill Park, giving the Eagles sole possession of the 2018 league title.
Eastern (22-2, 15-1 TVC Hocking) — which would have split the league crown with the Tornadoes (13-5, 13-3) if the result was flipped on Friday — has now 11 league titles, including five under 18-year head coach Brian Bowen.
“This is something to really be proud of, because there are some many great teams and great coaches in our league,” Bowen said. “It’s definitely an accomplishment that the kids should be very proud.
“I can’t compliment them enough, throughout the team we have kids with tremendous character. They’re great leaders, they show up, they’re very mature and they work hard. Coaching decisions, they accept those with great maturity. They love each other and play for each other.”
The Tornadoes had won 11 straight league games just to put themselves into a position to play for the league title on Friday, and despite falling to the Eagles, third-year SHS head coach Kyle Wickline knows that his team has no reason to hang their heads.
“We’ve played a lot of pressure games, probably 5-or-6 in a row here, and it’s a credit to these kids,” Wickline said. “At one time we were 2-2 and we ended up 13-3 in the league. It’s a credit to these guys that grind and continue to work at it.
“Its a tough loss to a good team, and you lose an opportunity at a league championship, but now we have to turn around and start our second season. We’re 0-0, on Tuesday we have Belpre, which is a very quality club, and we have to come out to play. I think we have enough leadership with our juniors and seniors, that these kids will bounce back.”
The Eagles took a 2-0 lead in the top of the opening inning, as Ethen Richmond doubled home Nate Durst and then scored on a single by Kaleb Hill.
The Tornadoes got one run back in the bottom of the first, when Logan Drummer scored on a two-out Billy Harmon single.
Southern singled once and stranded a runner on third in the bottom of the second, and Eastern followed it up by doing the same thing in the top of the third.
The guests ended the scoring drought in the top of the fourth inning, as a two-out, two-run Owen Arix single gave the Eagles a 4-1 advantage.
The Purple and Gold trimmed their deficit back to one in the bottom of the fourth, as Logan Dunn singled home Harmon, and then Coltin Parker drove in Ryan Acree.
The Eagles began to pull away in the following frame, however, with Austin Coleman singling home Durst to start the inning. Coleman was singled home by Richmond, who was later driven in by Colton Reynolds. Eastern’s lead grew to 9-3 by the end of the fifth, as Matthew Blanchard singled home Hill and Josh Brewer.
The Tornadoes trimmed the margin to five runs in the bottom of the sixth, as a bases loaded walk brought Garrett Wolfe around to score.
Eastern capped off its 11-4 victory in the top of the seventh, as Christian Mattox drove in Blanchard and then scored on a single by Coleman.
“The kids were focused, they knew how well Southern had been playing and what a great team they were,” Bowen said. “They were confident and excited, they decided that they wanted to accomplish something and they knew they were going to have to fight for it. It was a tournament atmosphere and it’s good for these kids to have that experience against a great opponent in pressure situations. Hopefully that will help us in the tournament.”
Richmond was the winning pitcher of record in five innings for the Eagles, striking out seven batters and walking two, while surrendering three runs and six hits. Coleman pitched the final two frames for EHS, striking out two, walking one and allowing one hit.
Dylan Smith suffered the pitching loss in five innings for Southern, giving up nine runs on 13 hits, while striking out four batters, walking one and hitting one. Ryan Laudermilt finished the game on the mound for SHS, giving up two runs on three hits and a walk.
Southern committed four of the game’s five errors and left seven runners on base, with the Eagles also stranding seven runners.
“We just had too many mistakes in the field, we made some errors that they took advantage of,” Wickline said. “A good ball club is going to take advantage of the mistakes you make in the field. I believe that a timely hit here or there, and that game would have been a lot closer than what it was. We knew it was going to be a game where we had to continue to score. Their coach does a great job and they have a very good club this year.”
Coleman led the Eagle offense with a 4-for-5 day, which included a run and two RBIs. Richmond was 3-for-4 with a double, two runs and two RBIs in the win, Hill was 2-for-4 with two runs and one RBI, Blanchard was 2-for-3 with a run and two RBIs, while Mattox was 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI.
Durst doubled once and scored twice for Eastern, Brewer singled once and scored once, Arix singled once and drove in two runs, while Reynolds picked up a run and an RBI.
Leading the Tornadoes at the plate, Acree was 2-for-2 with a run, Dunn was 2-for-3 with an RBI, while Harmon was 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI. Smith singled once for the hosts, Wolfe and Drummer both scored a run, while Parker and Gage Shuler each earned an RBI.
Eastern — which has won more than 20 games for the first time since at least the 1988 — also defeated the Purple and Gold by an 11-1 count on April 5 in Tuppers Plains.
The Eagles’ have also won conference championships in 2010, 2009, 2008, 2002, 1991, 1987, 1986, 1981, 1980 and 1979.
After a doubleheader with Warren on Saturday, Eastern will begin its postseason at home on Wednesday, against the winner of Federal Hocking and South Webster.
Southern also begins the tournament at home, as the Purple and Gold welcome Belpre to Racine for a second time on Tuesday.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.