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Timely hitting, pitching lifts Eagles in home debut

EAGLES: Oak Hill's Wes Transier prepares to release a pitch in the third inning of the Golden Eagles' 7-3 win over Eastern on Wednesday afternoon.

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

MIER — Less than three weeks ago, Spencer Ballinger was cutting down the nets following an Oak Hill boys' basketball state championship.

Wednesday afternoon, Ballinger smacked a home run that helped lift the Golden Eagles to a 7-3 victory over Eastern in their baseball home opener. While the state title still is fresh in his mind, Ballinger said it is time to focus on baseball.

"We're trying to move past that now," Ballinger said after the Eagles improved to 1-1. "It's a new season, new sport, and new goals. I think us basketball guys are moving forward pretty well."

Ballinger is among the four players who also were part of the basketball team, and each made contributions. None was bigger than Landry Ozmun's bunt that Eastern's third baseman booted into a three-base error and opened the door to a three-run second inning.

With two outs, Garrod Creech doubled and Caleb Middlesworth — Most Valuable Player of the Class 2A state championship game — lashed a single to snap a 1-all tie. Middlesworth then scored on the error and Ozmun ended up on third base, where he scored on Wes Transier's RBI single.

"Little things lead to big results and we put pressure on them and were aggressive just by Landry Ozmun putting the bunt down," Oak Hill coach Shane Edwards said. "Eastern is an inexperienced team and maybe that put them in a hole just like it put us in a hole (Monday) by making an error."

Oak Hill never gave up the lead and took advantage of the best weather conditions of this intemperant spring — a brisk 55 degrees with some wind gusts. In Monday's season opener, the Eagles played in 30 degree temperatures with spitting snow and dropped a 6-1 decision at Wabash.

"It's nice to be able to feel your hands," said Max Stefanatos, who pitched two solid relief innings for the Eagles.

Ballinger's homer leading off the third on a two-strike pitch put the Eagles ahead 5-2 and then Cal Mann, another of the basketball players, followed with a single and advanced to second when the Eastern left fielder misplayed the ball. Mann would later score from third base on an errant relay throw and make it 6-2.

Windy days at Oak Hill's field can give fly balls extra lift, and that appeared to occur on Ballinger's blast. The ball was struck solidly but continued to carry and rise until it cleared the short right porch and land in the adjacent football stadium where a track and field meet was taking place.

"With two strikes I was just trying to make contact, but I barreled it up pretty good," said Ballinger, the 2015 Chronicle-Tribune baseball Player of the Year. "And with the wind blowing out it was just good contact.

"When I hit it I kind of knew it was (carrying out) with us having a short right field that it was going to get over," he added.

Mann walked in the fifth and would come around and score Oak Hill's final run with the aid of two wild pitches. The Eagles managed just six hits with Ballinger and Creech having the only extra-base hits but stranded just one baserunner.

By contrast, Eastern (0-1) stranded a whopping 14 baserunners and left the bases loaded in the first and third innings. Transier started on the mound for the Eagles and wiggled out of both jams allowing just a single run in each inning.

Transier was lifted for Stefanatos with one out in the fourth and kept Eastern at bay for the next two innings until he was relieved after giving up a run in the sixth. Harrison Walker took over squashed an Eastern rally and in the seventh struck out three Comets batters in order to end the game.

"It's pretty important get out of that (fourth inning) when we did because it's not good to give anybody any time to get anything going," Stefanatos said. "And when you shut them down you can go in (the dugout) and go to bat with that energy that you carried over from defense."

While Edwards lamented that it wasn't a crisply-played game, he praised the relief pitching of varsity newcomers Stefanatos and Walker along with the timely offensive plays.

"For not having a lot of varsity experience, they got their feet wet and got out of some bad innings," Edwards said. "We didn't help them out with our defense (three errors) — it was pretty sloppy on our end but to get into the win column is good.

"It's still early and we still have to get guys into baseball mode that haven't put in a lot work. Hopefully, we'll progress through the year, but today was ugly. I was happy to see Creech hitting the ball well and glad to see Spencer get on the offensive side of things with the home run. It was wind-aided a little bit, but he still hit the ball pretty hard."