Arabians end rival Cougars’ season, win sectional opener with shutout

Greenfield-Central’s Nicholas Grandstaff (23) stretches for the ball to get Pendleton Heights’ Ryan Graham (9) at first base during the Class 4A Sectional 9 quarterfinals at Pendleton Heights High School on Tuesday, May 26, 2021. (Rob Baker/Daily Reporter)

PENDLETON — Greenfield-Central had plenty of time to respond to Pendleton Heights’ quick start in Wednesday’s first game of the Class 4A Sectional 9 baseball tournament at Bill Stoudt Field.

It just didn’t have the answer for Pendleton Heights sophomore pitcher Ricky Howell.

The Arabians, who were the visiting team on their home field, scored three first-inning runs to jump out to an early lead, then added more runs in the middle and late innings to eliminate the Cougars 9-0.

The teams had split games in two regular-season meetings.

Howell (4-2) took a no-hitter into the fourth inning. G-C sophomore third baseman Austin Oden broke it up to open the frame, but Howell struck out the next three batters.

The Arabians’ ace pitched 6.0 innings and gave up just two hits. He struck out seven, walked three and hit one batter.

Cougar sophomore starter Connor Sims (4-1) got off to a slow start. He lasted only seven batters, walking four and giving up one hit.

The Arabians took advantage of Sims’ strike zone struggles. After two walks, Jadon Donati had a one-out bloop single. Two more walks forced in another run. Arturo Casas had a two-out RBI single off Cougars senior reliever Jacob Riegle.

“(Howell) pitched well today,” Greenfield-Central head coach Mark Vail said. “Connor has been stellar for us all year. He just couldn’t find the plate today, unfortunate for him. We didn’t help him at the plate at all, a tough day all around.”

With a three-run first inning, Pendleton Heights had already scored as many runs in the opening inning as it had in either previous game against the Cougars. In a win at PH on May 5, the Arabians won 3-1, with Howell on the mound. At G-C on May 6, the Cougars were 5-2 victors.

Reliever Riegle slowed the Arabians until the fourth inning, but the Cougars offense was still being stymied by Howell.

“You’ve got to give your pitchers some support,” Vail added. “You can’t ask them to go out there and throw zeros every inning. You have to make something happen and let your pitcher sit in the dugout for a while.”

In the fourth, Pendleton Heights extended the lead to 6-0. Again, it took advantage of the base on balls.

Mitchell Cobb led off with a walk. He stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on an Evan MacMillan single. MacMillan came across on a safety squeeze bunt by Donati and courtesy runner Keegan McClure, running for catcher Cam Harris who had reached on a dropped third strike, scored the Arabians sixth run after a Caleb Frakes single.

Oden had both G-C hits, adding a two-out sixth-inning single.

The Cougars had a few other opportunities.

Sophomore Andrew Zellers drew a one-out walk in the second, but was picked off first base. Senior Parker Stanley followed with a walk and moved up a base on wild pitch. With the pick-off, instead of having runners at second and third with one out, Riegel’s ensuing ground out to second base ended the inning.

In the third, senior Kalob Martin reached on a lead-off walk. With one out, sophomore Grant Shepherd was hit by pitch. Both runners moved up on a ground out by senior Carson Gibson, but were left stranded.

Howell, after the first Oden hit, struck out five in a row and retired nine of the last 10 he faced.

“When (Howell) is on like that, he’s a pretty tough guy to hit,” Pendleton Heights head coach Matt Vosburgh said. “His ball moves a lot so guys don’t hit him square. When he’s locked in like that, it gives us a fighting chance every time he’s on the mound.”

The Arabians added a run each in the sixth and seventh innings, which included a sixth-inning home run by Hunter Eikenberry.

“That was probably the most complete game we’ve had all year and we picked a good time to do it,” Vosburgh said.

Greenfield-Central ends its season 16-8. Pendleton Heights moves up to .500 at 15-15. The Arabians will play Anderson, a 10-0 winner over Richmond in Wednesday’s second game, in a 5:30 p.m. semifinal contest on Friday.

For the Cougars, it was a tough way to end a solid season.

Coming back after missing the 2020 season due to the pandemic, they had very few players with varsity experience, including a group of nine seniors.

Still, they were able to earn 16 wins and finish second in the Hoosier Heritage Conference. They were 11-3 in league games, just one game back of HHC champion Mt. Vernon.

“It’s been a fun year with these guys,” Vail added.