Vandalia-Butler spotted Piqua a pair of first-inning runs, but the Aviators proved unstoppable in rolling to their 8th win without defeat.
Piqua—Two teams having distinctly different seasons got together on a chilly, breezy Tuesday afternoon at Hardman Field.
Vandalia-Butler rolled into Piqua unbeaten in 7 games, averaging 8 runs a game. The Aviators are coming off back-to-back 22 win seasons, and, after a 5-1 win over the Indians Monday at home, had won 21 straight GWOC North contests.
In the home dugout, Piqua was struggling to a 1-5 start. In those five losses, the Indians had scored just 11 runs while giving up 31.
Despite allowing a pair of first inning runs, sophomore Braedon Norman settled down to pitch 6 innings of 3 run baseball, and the Butler offense got contributions up and down the lineup in a 12-4 win. It’s the Aviators ninth straight win over Piqua and their 14th in the last 16 meetings.
“That was a good team win today,” said veteran Butler head coach Trent Dues, now in his 23rd season. “Braedon pitched well, and we hit the ball. A lot of guys contributed, and it was good to see.”
“A tough day to be sure,” said Piqua coach Brad Lavey. “We got the start we wanted, but Butler is a really good team. They hit the ball well, and we just had too many mistakes.”
The game started well for the Indians. Cory Cottrell led off the home first with a single and took second when Owen Toopes walked. Derek Hite singled home a run and Logan Harris added an rbi base-hit for a 2-0 lead.
“Braedon didn’t let that bother him,” said Dues. “He really has ice water in his veins. He’s pretty calm. You would never know he was a sophomore by the way he pitches.”
Piqua starter Blake Wright retired the first four hitters he faced and protected the lead into the fourth. Then, Jack Mitchell, batting ninth in the Butler lineup, hit a two-run single to give the Aviators the lead for good. After that, the floodgates opened.
Butler scored five runs in the fifth on just three hits. Mitchell and Dolen Fultz had run-scoring singles, and Damon Dues had a two-run knock as the Aviators stretched the lead to 9-2.
Butler added three more in the 7th, one on a Ty Burley single, and two on a Joe Jackson base-hit. Jackson, a junior hitting .273 entering the game, went 5 for 5 on the day. He had plenty of help.
Mitchell went 2 for 3 with a walk, scored three times, and drove in three. Fultz had three hits and drove in two, while Preston Tofstad also had two hits.
For Piqua, senior catcher Travis Smith had three hits and drove in a run, and Hite had two hits with an RBI.
Norman did not have his best stuff, but it was more than good enough on this day. The right-hander, who won 6 games last season as a freshman, gave up three runs and 6 hits over 6 innings of work. He walked one and struckout 2.
“I was getting the ball up early,” Norman explained. “I had to stride out and get the ball down, and let my defense make plays. You don’t always have your best stuff, but you still have to get the win.
“It takes a little time to get adjusted to the mound. I didn’t pitch here last year, so it was a different experience. We really hit the ball today and that made my job easier.”
Wright took the loss, allowing 5 runs in 4 1/3 innings. He was followed to the mound by Michael Ashcraft and Zach Luttrell.
The Aviators, now 8-0 and 2-0 in the GWOC American North, had 12 runs, 16 hits, and committed three errors. Butler stranded 10 runners.
Piqua, which fell to 1-6 and 0-2, had 4 runs and 9 hits, and also committed three errors. The Indians stranded 6.
“We kicked the ball around a bit today and that’s uncharacteristic,” acknowledged Dues. “But we hit and ran well today. We wanted to get some guys going in the bottom of the lineup and were able to do that. It was good to see.”
The veteran coach said the Aviators quick start has been fueled by two things.
“Obviously, our pitching has been good. We have played well defensively. We have been hitting just enough; we certainly haven’t been tearing the cover off the ball. Defense and pitching have been very good for us, and that will win you a lot of games.”
Despite the tough start, all is not lost for the Indians, who were 10-14 last year.
“We see some good things,” Lavey said. “We have struggled getting hits in clutch situations, and we had a couple of those today. We are working through having the proper approach at the plate and doing with the baseball what you should do with it wherever the pitch is thrown. We will continue to work on that.”
“Anytime you play a club like Butler, that has had the sustained success that they have had, you can learn from,” Lavey explained. “You want to emulate that and try to copy what they do as much as possible.”
While happy with the start, Dues knows that nothing is won the first week of April.
“We want to get better every day,” Dues said. “That’s what we talk about. If we do that, good things will happen. We don’t look ahead. We practice hard, the kids play hard and we just try to improve. We have good kids. They are unselfish, they accept their roles, and they accept coaching well. We’ll see how it goes. It’s early.”