Behind the masterful pitching of Austin Hill and flawless defensive play, Spring Valley defeated Dutch Fork 4-0 on Monday at Clyde Lee Field in a key game in the developing Region 4-4A baseball pennant race.
Hill scattered four hits in going the distance against the visiting Silver Foxes to help the Vikings (5-3, 2-1) stay hot on the trail of front-running Blythewood. DF, meanwhile, dropped top 5-4 overall, 2-3 in region matters.
“Austin has thrown well every time out this season,” said SV managed Collin Liggett. “He gives you an effort, goes all out and kind of leads the troops. Defensively, we played very well, especially in the outfield.”
Dutch Fork finished with a 4-3 advantage in hits, but the bottom line was the Silver Foxes were guilty of four errors. Spring Valley had no miscues in the field.
The Vikings parlayed two hits, a walk, two hit batsmen and two Dutch Fork errors into four runs in the bottom of the first. It more than enough run support for Hill.
“We knew coming over here was going to be tough, and that it could down to a hit or two here or a play or two there,” said DF coach Jonathan Johnson. “Once we got behind early, it took us out of our game. Our game is bunting, the hit and run and stealing bases to put pressure on defenses. When you’re down four runs right off the bat, the situation changes.”
Johnson realizes his team must dig in and take things one step at a time.
“We’re 2-3 in the region and we can’t be thinking about challenging for a No. 1 playoff seed anymore,” he said. “We have to concern ourselves with righting things so we can qualify for the playoffs.”
Spring Valley’s flashy glove work started in the top of the first when Heath Hagler, who was making his first start in left field, made a running, over-the-shoulder catch of a drive off the bat of Connor Davis for the third out.
“No question, that play kind of set the tone of the game for us,” said Liggett.
In the bottom of the first, Chase Haas led off with a single and Gene Cone drew a walk. DF starter David Sauer then retired the next two SV batters before falling apart. It began when he hit Trae Dent and Warren Deaver with pitches. Dent’s plunk loaded the bases. Deaver took one of the batting helmet, which forced in Haas with the first run. Cone sped home from third on an errant pickoff attempt by DF catcher Tyler Lancaster. Dent and Deaver scored when Ben Taylor legged out an infield hit followed by a throwing error.
Hill allowed only one hit and faced the minimum 12 batters in the first four innings.
Dutch Fork’s best shot at scoring came in the sixth when infield singles by Kevin Bland and Ethan Hinkle around a sacrifice bunt by Jordan Eberle put runners on first and third. Hill responded by striking out Mark Kingsmore on three pitches and getting Davis on a pop up to Taylor at first for the final out.
Sauer was tough after a shaky first inning, allowing only one more hit the rest of the way. Bland was the only batter with more than one hit in the game. Kingsmore made two excellent defensive plays in center field, robbing Anthony Paulsen of a home run in the third with a leaping catch at the fence and stealing a hit from Hill in the sixth with a sliding catch of a sinking liner.
Paulsen and Dent, two key veteran Viking players, were in the lineup together for the first time all season. Paulsen made his season debut on Monday after Dent returned to action last week against West Florence.
“It’s starting to come back together, health-wise, and it’s the right time for it,” said Liggett.