While Valley hit a couple home runs and scratched home a run to take an early lead on defending Class A champion Charleston Catholic, the Irish figured out a way to nickel and dime their way to a victory on Wednesday at Triana Field.
Playing with a two-strike approach on many of their at-bats, the Irish had nine singles and took advantage of four Valley errors to record their ninth win of the season, 12-3 over the Greyhounds (7-4).
Valley, the second-ranked team in the Daily Mail Sports Writers Class A Baseball Poll, led 2-0 on solo home runs from Druw Bowen and John Riddle and regained the lead at 3-2 on a Riddle single in the fourth.
Then, coach Joe Craffey was ejected after arguing two close calls by infield umpire Mike Gordon and the wheels fell off for Valley.
“That (fourth) inning was the downfall for us,” said Craffey, who is in his 13th season at Valley but will sit out the next three games as punishment for being ejected. “We let things get to us instead of playing through it and that escalated throughout the game.”
The first five runs for Irish were unearned and didn’t come by virtue of a Catholic hit.
“That’s just Valley, when they get down they just seem to give up on themselves and we feed off their negativity,” said Catholic junior Sam McKown, whose Irish defeated Valley in the 2013 Class A state tournament semifinal.
In the fourth, two runners reached on two errors by new first baseman Josh Naylor, who was playing in place of starter Casey Stewart. Stewart became ill during batting practice and couldn’t play.
After a fielder’s choice that helped Dominic Marsico reach base and Nick Russo was hit by a pitch, Catholic (9-4) took the lead. A Thad Jameson bases-loaded walk and a Connor Golden flyout pushed the lead to 5-3.
“We’re a scrappy baseball team,” McKown said. “Coach says take a two-strike approach, so we choke up, get up in the box and try to put it in play and when you do that, mistakes happen.”
In the fifth, Mike Martin singled but was erased on a fielder’s choice. Back-to-back walks and three consecutive singles from Jameson, Jordan Covelli and Golden and the Irish were off and running.
Catholic, which came into the game ranked sixth in Class A, added another run in the sixth on a single by freshman Luke McKown.
The Greyhounds could muster only three hits, but two of them were home runs over the left field fence. The first, Riddle’s first homer of the season in the second, gave Valley a 1-0 lead. A Bowen solo shot — his second this year — tied the score at 2-2 in the third.
“Druw and John blasted those,” Catholic coach Bill Mehle said. “I rarely see high school balls go out of this park.”
Catholic had two singles in the first inning but couldn’t produce any runs. All six of its runs in the fifth and its run in the sixth were earned.
“That’s got to be our modus operandi to take advantage of the seams that the game provides,” Mehle said. “We did score six runs with two outs. I said before the game, let’s cherish every at bat. That first at bat and the second at bat, you can’t just wait until there’s a pressure situation to hit.
“We took advantage of a couple of their mistakes and with a lot of teams, if you keep putting the ball in play, you can keep putting pressure on the defense, eventually you get a break or something cracks.
“We also hit a lot of at ’em balls, so we could’ve scored more runs earlier.”
There’s no rest for the Irish, who have won six of their last seven games but will pay a visit today to Herbert Hoover, the state’s top-ranked Class AA team.
Valley, which has lost three of its last four games, visits 10th-ranked Man today.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail.