LEWIS CENTER – Olentangy Orange baseball coach Tom Marker didn’t shy away from the Pioneers’ 12-game losing streak to rival Olentangy.
He faced it head on, in fact, going as far as sending texts to his players poking fun of it with the goal of loosening them up ahead of the series’ latest installment.
“I think it’s fun,” Marker said. “High school baseball is all about experience. We lost 12 straight games to our rivals. Cool – let’s have a blast with it. Let’s have fun with it, try to relax, talk trash with each other and have fun with it.”
It worked. The Pioneers scored twice in the first inning and added three more in the second to stake pitcher Zane Lattig to a comfortable lead.
“We had quality at-bats and Zane threw three pitches for strikes whenever he wanted,” Marker said. “(Catcher) Connor Till is a dude, too. He doesn’t get much recognition because he doesn’t get at-bats. But behind the dish – he’s been huge for us as a sophomore. Our pitchers feel like they can throw to him any time.”
Lattig held Olentangy to three hits and a run in complete-game 5-1 victory to finally end the streak.
“It feels great,” Lattig said. “We’ve put in all of this work – all of us together. It’s just a wonderful feeling for us.”
It’s Orange’s first win over Olentangy since Apr. 11, 2014.
Lattig happened to drive in the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the first inning.
He held Olentangy hitless over the final four innings to preserve the win.
“I felt great,” Lattig said. “I just trusted my team behind me. I knew they’d make plays.”
Caden Konczak opened the game with a walk and Tyler Ross was hit by a pitch one out later. Josh Laisure drove in Konczak to give the Pioneers the lead and Lattig followed with a fly ball to right that scored Ross.
“You gotta give Orange all the credit in the world,” Olentangy coach Ryan Lucas said. “What (Tom’s) doing with that program and the culture. The kids believe and they buy in and they play hard. You gotta give those guys a lot of credit because they played well.”
Logan Ketron singled to drive home Connor McCulty, who was hit by a pitch, to cut Olentangy’s deficit to 2-1 in the bottom half of the first.
But, the Pioneers (13-4, 6-1) responded with three runs in the second to reclaim momentum.
Braden Riley was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to drive in the first, Ross scored the second on a ground out and another run scored on the play because of a throwing error.
Olentangy (8-7, 3-4) got a Caden Kaiser single in the second inning and Ketron doubled with two outs in the third.
Lattig silenced the bats after that – allowing a pair of hit-batters the rest of the way. Overall, he allowed an earned run on three hits, two walks, four hit-batters and struck out seven.
“We’re just not competing and we’re not playing with confidence like we have in the past,” Lucas said. “Somehow, some way I have to figure out how to reach this group and get them to believe they’re going to win and believe they’re going to make every play. It’s a mindset right now.”
Lucas takes the blame for his team’s performance.
“We gotta compete,” he said. “It’s completely on me because I just think that I’ve done such a bad job coaching this group. I think any time you hear coaches talking about, ‘They don’t play hard’ or ‘They don’t compete’ – I think that’s a complete reflection on their head coach. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Christian Bova allowed five runs, four earned, on six hits, two walks and two hit-batters over 3.1 innings to take the loss for Olentangy. Jake Coleman allowed one hit, three walks and a hit-batter over 3.2 scoreless innings in relief.
Orange holds a one-game lead over Olentangy Liberty and a two-game lead over Westerville Central in the division race. The Pioneers took two games from Liberty and split with Central earlier in the year. They have one game remaining with both.
Olentangy finds itself three games back with three games remaining with Liberty, two with Orange and one with Central.
The teams meet again Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Orange.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.