By KEVIN HARRIS
In the past, the Jeffersonville Red Devils have had the number of Clark County rival Silver Creek. Entering Wednesday night’s matchup between both ranked teams at Don Poole Field, Jeff owned a 52-5 record over the Dragons since 1966.
But in the last few years, Class 3A No. 5 Silver Creek has turned the tables and now has the Class 4A No. 8 Red Devils’ number.
The Dragons scored three runs in the first two innings and held on to defeat Jeff on Wednesday, 3-2.
It was Silver Creek’s second win over the Devils in the last four seasons. The Dragons defeated Jeff in 2010, 3-2. Prior to the 2010 meeting, the Red Devils had beaten Silver Creek 19 consecutive times.
“We still consider ourselves a little country school, so to come over to Jeff, a 4A school, with an extremely good program is big,” said Dragons’ assistant coach Scott Jennings, who was one of three Creek assistants helping run the team for absent head coach Joe Decker. “For us to come in here and just compete with them is a huge shot in the arm for us. That’s why we like playing them toward the end of the year.”
The Dragons (19-6) scored twice with two out in the top of the first inning. Jamie Valvano collected a two-out double off Jeff starting pitcher Nick Gallagher. He then came home on a triple to the right-center field gap by Lucas Barnett.
Barnett put Silver Creek up 2-0 when the Red Devils committed a fielding error.
Jeff coach Derek Ellis said Silver Creek’s two runs in the first were a result of Gallagher and Red Devil catcher Casey Gibson getting their pitch signals mixed up with their coaches.
“We were not on the same page on our pitch calling, and that came back and burned us,” said Ellis, who saw his team’s 12-game winning streak end. “The pitches that we were calling weren’t being thrown and they were hitting them pretty good. That’s on us, the coaches. But our guys on the mound have to understand that we didn’t change the signals, and they were kind of on their own there.”
The Red Devils (15-4) squandered a chance to cut their deficit in half in the bottom of the first. Senior Trent Astle smacked a double to the left-center gap with two out. Chandler Dale followed Astle with a single to left, as Ellis decided to wave Astle to home plate. Silver Creek left fielder Brooks Howell threw a bullet to catcher Zach Spaulding, who easily tagged out Astle for the third out.
“I thought the ball would get caught in the grass a little bit and I thought [Howell] would have to charge harder,” Ellis explained. “But Chandler hit it so stinking hard that it got through the grass pretty good, and it got to [Howell] and he threw [Astle] out by a lot. If I can have it back, I would definitely hold him up.”
The Dragons played some small ball to score their third run in the top of the second. Starting pitcher Cameron Cook led off the frame with a single to left and then moved to second on a Drew Sherrow sacrifice.
After moving to third on a Gallagher wild pitch, Cook reached home plate on a grounder to second by Cody Razer.
“It calmed our kids down,” Jennings said about his squad’s early 3-0 lead. “We played New Albany [a 9-2 loss on Tuesday] and our kids seemed a little uptight. They jumped on us early and it was kind of like going out in a boxing match and you get knocked down in the first round. It’s hard to come back from that.
“If Jeff came out and put four or five on the board in the first inning and we would’ve put none, that would’ve been hard to recover from. So us getting on the board and holding them was very key.”
Jeff began its comeback attempt in the bottom of the sixth.
Red Devil shortstop Drew Ellis started the inning with an infield single. After Astle flew out to center, Dale collected an opposite-field single to right to advance Drew Ellis to second.
After Cook struck out Gibson for the second out, Drew Ellis stole third and then Nolan Fertig drew a walk to load the bases.
The next batter, Josh Burke, lined a single down the left-field line to knock in Ellis, pulling within two runs at 3-1. Then Jeff pinch-hitter got hit in the helmet by a Cook pitch with the bases loaded to cut the Dragons’ lead to 3-2.
The Red Devils tried to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh. Barnett, who relieved Cook in the seventh, issued a one-out walk to Drew Ellis. But following a Astle fly out to right, Spaulding threw out Drew Ellis trying to steal second to end the game. It was the first save of the season for Barnett, who won in a starting role on Monday against Class 3A No. 8 Brownstown Central.
“Obviously, that was huge to throw that kid out,” Jennings said. “He is an absolute stud in this area, so to throw him out is extremely impressive. He’s a [NCAA] Division I player, so to get him thrown out is obviously huge.”
Spaulding’s game-ending assist was one of several great defensive plays by the Dragons on Wednesday. They turned two double plays during the contest, including one in the bottom of the second when Jeff had the bases loaded.
“We’re pretty solid defensively,” Jennings said. “We’ve got [starting shortstop] Shae Durham who fields the ball as well as anybody. Lucas Barnett is playing third and he was our starting shortstop for three years, so obviously that kid is pretty good defensively.”
Cook improved his record to 4-1. In six innings, he gave up two earned runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and four walks.
Gallagher suffered his first loss of the year, falling to 2-1. The left-hander went the distance, allowed two earned runs on four hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks. After giving up Cook’s single in the second, Gallagher finished the game by retiring the last 18 Silver Creek batters.
Dale went 2-for-3 and Astle was 2-for-4.
Despite their 11-1 victory in five innings versus Madison on Tuesday, the Red Devils have been struggling on offense as of late. Even though it won the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament last week, Jeff combined to score only four runs in its three shutout victories during the tourney.
“We’re getting on base. We’re just making some baserunning mistakes that takes the bat out of our hands,” Derek Ellis said. “Everybody is starting to pitch better and everybody is starting to play better. We’re almost toward the end of the season and everybody is getting better. I wouldn’t say we’re in a slump. But at this point, I would just say that all the pitchers are getting a lot better than they were earlier in the season.
“But we’ve got to find a way to score — we’ve got to find more ways to score.”
Silver Creek will host Trinity Lutheran in a doubleheader on Saturday, as the Dragons have their Senior Day. Jeff will host its Senior Night on Friday against Columbus East. The Red Devils and Dragons have scheduled a rematch next Tuesday at Silver Creek.