OAK HILL — For five innings, the tension was in the air as Oak Hill and Federal Hocking both struggled to put a run on the board.
Then the Oaks finally broke through in the bottom of the fifth and that was all it needed.
They put up three runs and added two more for insurance in the next inning to defeat Federal Hocking 5-1 in a Division III sectional semifinal on Wednesday.
“We really locked in towards the end of the game,” Oak Hill coach Tim Sowers said. “We were really sluggish to start because we haven’t played since last Thursday so we were out of a groove for a while. It took some time, but we finally got back to baseball in the fifth inning and handled our business.”
Oak Hill went with a pitching tactic of throwing three different pitchers, which worked out incredibly well.
Rylan Sams started the game, throwing three innings and striking out six batters with unmatched efficiency.
Then Flint Barger threw the next three innings and picked up the victory, allowing an earned run and striking out three batters before Nate Clutters finished off the job in the final inning.
“Rylan threw under 50 pitches and Flint threw slightly over 50 pitches, but more than anything we just needed to get guys some work on the mound again,” Sowers said. “All three guys did a remarkable job working quick and throwing strikes.”
For four innings the Oaks struggled to time up and figure out Federal Hocking’s Wes Carpenter on the mound.
Then they finally put everything together. With a runner on second and two outs, Isaiah Needham smoked a hard ground ball that ricocheted off the shortstop’s outstretched glove just enough for the runner score and put the Oaks ahead 1-0.
Sams then stepped up to the dish and laced a two-run single to left field that pushed the lead up to 3-0.
“I saw a fastball knee high high and I wanted to take a huge swing at it,” Sams said. “But my coaches always tell me that I can’t take those big hacks at every pitch and to just aim for a single, so I figured I’d try it out and I just ripped the ball.”
Fed Hocking got a run back in the top of the sixth with an RBI double from Collin Jarvis, but momentum was seized for good in the bottom half after Ethan Sickles launched an RBI double off the left field fence, missing a home run by two feet.
He scored on a throwing error during the next at-bat to cap the final score and the win for the Oaks.
“I saw a fastball coming right out of his hands right in the middle of the zone,” Sickles said. “It was a pitch that we have preached about as a team to fire away on if you see it coming, so that’s what I did.”
Sickles finished 3-for-3 with two doubles and an RBI, followed by Sams going 1-for-2 with two RBIs and Needham adding an RBI.
The Oaks aim to win their first sectional title since 2013 on Saturday as they’ll play at Minford for the third time this season.
“The last time we played Minford, it was a 5-2 game and we hung tough but had a bad second inning,” Sowers said. “As long as we come in, practice hard and put the work in over the next two days, we definitely have a chance. Just have to take everything pitch by pitch.”