TUPPERS PLAINS, Ohio — A championship defended with a whole lot of defense.
The Eastern baseball team clinched at least a share of its second straight Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division title on Monday at its home field, as the Eagles defeated archrival Southern by a 4-1 count, making the seventh time this season EHS has held a league opponent to one-or-fewer runs.
Eastern (16-0 13-0 TVC Hocking) — which left two runners in scoring position in the opening inning — broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the third, as Isaiah Fish doubled home Bruce Hawley.
Next, Blake Newland scored on a wild pitch to give EHS a 2-0 lead, and then back-to-back bases loaded walks pushed the Eagle advantage to 4-0 by the end of the inning. The victors didn’t score again in the contest, however, having a trio of runners thrown out at the plate over the final three frames.
Southern (11-5, 11-5) — which didn’t reach scoring position or the hit column until the top of the fifth inning — ended the shut out with Billy Harmon scoring on a Ryan Acree sac-fly in the seventh. The Tornadoes loaded the bases with one gone in the inning, but a strikeout and a grounder sealed the Eagles’ 4-1 triumph.
Following the title-clinching win, 19th-year Eastern head coach Brian Bowen talked about what it meant to his club to be able to repeat as champions after graduating 11 players from last year’s team.
“It’s always good for the kids,” Bowen said. “They had such a great commitment, they work so hard and invest so much into it, so it’s good for them to get some sort of recognition for that. Every year is a new year. That senior class last year, that was their team, and this is these guys’ team. I think they wanted to get one on their own.
“I’m really proud of them, I’m a little bit shocked at what they were able to accomplish, we just have so many new kids. They came in with tremendous attitudes. We have great assistant coaches that sacrifice a lot and do a tremendous job coaching the kids. It’s the kids and the assistant coaches, I’m really impressed with them. We’re still trying to get better, we’re so inexperienced that we have plenty of room to get better and we have opportunities to get better every day.”
Fourth-year SHS head coach Kyle Wickline gave credit to the Eagles for their championship season, and talked about what’s left for the Tornadoes now that their league slate is complete.
“Coach Bowen and the coaching staff does a great job with these guys, they’ve had a great season,” Wickline said. “We just want to continue to try and get better. The league thing is over with and it’s like we told the kids, ‘it’s time to loosen up a little bit and have a little bit of fun’. We have some non-league games coming up to try to prepare us for the tournament, we’ll take it one game at a time and see what happens from there.”
EHS sophomore Matthew Blanchard was the winning pitcher of record in a complete game, striking out six batters and allowing one earned run on four hits and a walk.
SHS freshman Will Wickline took the loss in three innings on the mound, striking out six, while giving up four earned runs on one hit and six walks. Jensen Anderson pitched the final three frames in shut out fashion for the Tornadoes, striking out three, walking three and surrendering a hit.
Leading the Eagles at the plate, Fish doubled once, scored once and drove in a run, while Blanchard added a single and a run. Brayden Smith and Ryan Harbour both had an RBI for the victors, while Newland and Hawley scored a run apiece.
Harmon singled once and scored once for the guests, Anderson added a double, Wickline and Cole Steele picked up a single apiece, while Acree earned an RBI.
Eastern committed two errors and left nine runners on base, while Southern had a trio of errors and four runners stranded.
This marks the sixth time the Eagles have won league championships in back-to-back seasons, with their other titles coming in 2018, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2002, 1991, 1987, 1986, 1981, 1980 and 1979. Of Eastern’s dozen league crowns, Bowen has coached the squad for half, including all-6 as members of the TVC Hocking.
The Eagles also finished off their second straight season sweep of Southern, as EHS won by a 3-1 count on April 9 in Racine.
After Tuesday’s trip to Miller, Eastern is scheduled to visit Trimble on Thursday. Following their bout at Wellston on Tuesday, the Purple and Gold will travel to Athens on Friday.
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.