When the VCHS baseball team plays sound defense, it has shown the ability to be a championship-caliber club.
That was evident last week in three straight conference victories, as the Vandals positioned themselves nicely for an SCC-East title run coming down the home stretch of the league slate, thanks in large part to solid glovework.
But when the Vandals struggle defensively, things have tended to get out of hand in a hurry.
Such was a case against Greenville Monday in a deceiving 10-3 setback.
Vandalia enjoyed a 3-1 lead after Brenden Wasmuth’s two-out, two-run single in the fifth. But after Dallas Gray was robbed of a two-run homer by Comets centerfielder Jay Haberer, the Vandals suffered a defensive meltdown of epic proportions, helping the host team score nine unanswered runs – seven of which were unearned.
‘We haven’t seen that for awhile,’ said VCHS coach Luke Hohlt of his team’s defensive struggles. ‘I think (an 8-1 loss to Altamont on April 8) was the last time we saw that kind of defense.’
As a result, the Comets not only got revenge against the Vandals – who topped Greenville for the first time in five years a couple weeks ago – they put themselves in the driver’s seat for a conference title.
The Comets solidified their place atop the conference standings with the victory, improving to 7-1 in SCC-East play. They will likely move to 8-1 Wednesday after completing a suspended game against Pana in which they enjoyed a 9-0 lead before the rains came.
Greenville will then have the opportunity to sew up a conference title Friday when it travels to Hillsboro.
Vandalia’s best bet for a league title is to win out, starting Wednesday with a pair of homes games against Hillsboro, the former being the completion of a suspended game in which Vandalia enjoyed a 4-1 lead heading into the fifth inning.
VCHS will then travel to Litchfield on Friday before wrapping up its league schedule at Staunton Tuesday.
If the Vandals (9-8, 4-2) want to remain alive in the conference race, they’ll have to shore up their defense. In its eight losses, VCHS has committed 25 errors, allowing 41 unearned runs to score.
But the Vandals have also shown the uncanny ability to bounce back from tough defeats. That is one reason Hohlt is optimistic that a conference title remains a possibility.
‘I’m confident it’s going to be turned around by Wednesday,’ Hohlt said. ‘I’m confident we’ll go out and get two on Wednesday and come back and play the way Vandal baseball is supposed to be played.
‘We playing a good conference season so far. We need to finish it off, though.’
Greenville 10, Vandalia 3
The Vandals grabbed the lead and momentum after Wasmuth’s go-ahead hit, and a season-sweep of the Comets seemed imminent after Gray followed with a towering drive to left-center that had two-run homer written all over it.
But Haberer reached over the wall to take away Gray’s fifth round-tripper of the year – grabbing the momentum away from the Vandals in the process.
The Comets would quickly tied the game at 3 apiece in the fifth on a Tebbe two-run double. The Vandals were poised to avert further damage, however, as Gray coaxed a fly out and an apparent inning-ending groundout to short. But the ball was booted, allowing the go-ahead run to score.
The Vandals got their heads down after Greenville took the lead, and their I-70 rivals took full advantage.
The Comets looked like they’d go quietly in the sixth, as Gray retired the first two batters he faced. But after a single and an error, the floodgates opened up. Another error extended the Comets’ lead to 5-3, and Greenville followed with back-to-back RBI singles and a bases-loaded walk to bust the game open. A passed ball and another error allowed things to get completely out of hand, as two more runs came plateward.
Prior to the fifth inning, Comets starter Todd Eaton and Gray were locked in a classic pitcher’s duel.
Eaton was working on a no-hitter before Clint Sigrist led off the fifth with a single. Andy Hosick followed with an infield single, and Chad Elam set up Wasmuth’s go-ahead hit with a sacrifice bunt.
That’s all the offense Vandalia could muster off Eaton, however, as he allowed just three hits and struck out 12 in a complete-game effort.
Gray had allowed just three hits and one earned run through four innings before his defense let him down in the final two innings. The senior righty wound up taking his second tough-luck defeat in a week’s time, as he suffered a similar fate against Litchfield last Tuesday.
Fortunately, the Vandals bounced back from that tough loss. Hohlt hopes they can do the same again.
‘This is how we see what teams are made of, seeing how they bounce back from a loss like this,’ Hohlt said. ‘We’ve got to forget about it. We’ve got to work hard. And we’ve got to be ready to go on Wednesday.’
Vandalia 000 030 0 – 3 3 3
Greenville 000 136 x -10 9 1
WP – Eaton (7IP, 3R, 2ER, 3H, 12K, 1BB). LP – Gray (4-3, 5 2/3 IP, 9R, 3ER, 9H, 7K, 1BB). Top hitters – Vandalia: Wasmuth 1-3 (2 BI), Sigrist 1-3, Hosick 1-3; Greenville: Haberer 1-2, Baumberger 1-2, Doll 1-3, Tebbe 2-3, Haar 1-3, Suess 1-3.
Vandalia 7, Staunton 4
Whightsil went 3-for-4 and continued his recent RBI binge by driving home three runs during a six-run Vandalia sixth, as the Vandals won their third straight conference game by rallying from a 4-1 deficit.
The junior centerfielder brought his RBI count to 14 in the Vandals’ last eight games, seven of which have been wins.
Gray picked up the victory by allowing no runs on just one walk and one hit in three scoreless innings of relief. The senior righty struck out five, improving his record to 4-2 on the spring.
Coming off a pair of lopsided victories over Pana, the Vandals showed they could play from behind as well, as they picked up their first come-from-behind win of the spring.
‘We played our type of baseball in those Pana games, but the Staunton game was the one I was most impressed with,’ Hohlt said. ‘We were down late and came back, and that’s something we had not done yet.
Jared Herker added two hits and an RBI in three at-bats.
WP – Gray (4-2, 3IP, 1H, 1BB, 5K, 0R). LP – Nokovich (6IP, 9H, 7R, 3K, 2 BB).
Last Wednesday’s Game
Vandalia 15, Pana 1
Whightsil drove in three runs at the plate and was solid in picking up his first win of the spring on the mound, helping the Vandals thump the Panthers for the second time in as many days.
Whightsil drove in three runs, in addition to allowing just one run on four hits and a walk over five innings.
He got plenty of offensive support, as sophomore Ryan Thiele was 3-for-4 with two doubles and four RBIs. Classmate Craig Freeman added two hits and two RBIs in as many at-bats.
Last Tuesday’s Game
Vandalia 9, Pana 1
Whightsil and Gray homered, helping the Vandalia baseball team bounce back from a tough loss to Litchfield the day before with a resounding 9-1 win over SCC-East rival Pana at home.
Gray’s round-tripper was his fourth so far this spring, and the senior finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs. Whightsil was also 2-for-3, driving in four runs.
Wasmuth picked up the victory, allowing just one earned run on one hit and four walks in five innings.