Athens junior Nate Trainer admitted that he wanted another crack at the Vinton County Vikings.
Trainer and the Bulldogs made the most of the opportunity.
Trainer pitched a five-inning no-hitter, and the No. 2 seed Bulldogs run-ruled the No. 7 Vikings, 10-0, in a Division II sectional semifinal played at Rannow Field on Tuesday.
“We were very excited,” Trainer said, recalling when the sectional brackets were released. “We were hoping for this draw. We ended up getting it. We capitalized.”
Trainer’s no-no was his second of the season, as he struck out four and walked three. The Bulldogs were clean in the field behind him.
“I struggled a little bit to get my curveball down,” Trainer said. “I think the fastball was there most of the game. Defense did a great job behind me, fielded everything.”
The win avenged Athens’ only league loss of the season, a 3-0 setback in McArthur on April 17.
Vinton County ace Ash Abele pitched a complete-game shutout that night, but the Bulldogs (18-6) got to him in the rematch.
Athens finished with 15 hits in the win, 14 coming against Abele. He was charged with 10 earned runs, striking out three and walking two.
“He throws lots of curveballs,” Trainer said. “So we just wanted to be aggressive in the count, jump on all the fastballs we can.”
Abele took a shutout into the third inning, but was eventually lifted with no outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Vikings trailing 8-0 at the time.
Abele didn’t give up an earned run during Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division play during the regular season, but Athens found success against the lefty the second time seeing him.
“Ash did what he could today,” Vinton County coach Andrew Barrell said. “They were ready for him. You could tell they were ready for him. They’ve been waiting for him for a few days.”
While Athens was seeing Abele for the second time this season, it was Trainer’s first time pitching against the Vikings (13-12).
The Bulldogs essentially have two aces in Trainer and left-hander Jack Cornwell. Athens coach Todd Nuzum explained the decision to send Trainer to the mound against the Vikings.
“We just thought the next opponent (Zane Trace) was more of a fastball hitting team,” Nuzum said. “Nate throws the fastball more than Jack, Jack being a left hander. We basically have a 1-A and a 1-B, so that’s why we made that decision.”
It was a decision that the Vikings weren’t expecting, as Barrell admitted they expected Cornwell to take the mound.
“I was surprised at the pitcher we got,” Barrell said. “We had told them we were getting Cornwell. We expected him. And I think Trainer had good stuff today. You really have to give him credit. We’ve hit the ball, all year long we’ve hit the ball and he really shut our bats down.”
The Vikings had a baserunner via a walk in each of the first two innings, but weren’t able to dent the scoreboard against Trainer.
Athens left three runners on base in the first two innings, but broke through in the bottom of the third.
Andrew Stephens drew a one-out walk, then raced home from first base when Trainer lined a double to the left-center gap.
Athens’ dugout exploded in celebration after Stephens scored, the Bulldogs were finally ahead of Abele on the scoreboard.
“I was kind of sitting fastball there because the count was in my favor,” Trainer said. “I loaded up, got the fastball. It felt good.”
Rece Lonas followed with a single, but Abele got Cornwell to fly out for the second out.
Senior first baseman Eli Kennedy stepped up from there. He bounced a two-run single past the first baseman, and suddenly Athens enjoyed a 3-0 advantage.
Kennedy finished the day 4 for 4 with four RBIs, as the Vikings failed to get the big lefty out.
“He’s coming on really at the right time,” Nuzum said. “I think he’s seeing the ball really well now. It’s a good time to have him coming on.”
The Bulldogs blew the game open in the bottom of the fourth. Trainer’s infield single scored Peyton Gail to push the lead to 4-0.
With two outs, Cornwell hit a run-scoring single to center, then Athens led 6-0 when the throw home went to the backstop to allow Trainer to score.
Kennedy’s RBI single to left scored Cornwell, and Athens led 7-0 after four innings.
Trainer continued to deal on the mound, working around a one-out walk in the fifth. Trainer retired 11 of the final 12 Vikings he faced.
“He was pounding the strike zone,” Nuzum said. “Overall getting his curveball over, working ahead of hitters and making the defense work.”
Athens ended the game with three runs in the bottom of the fifth. Reece Wallace hit a double, Gail singled and Nick Barga’s RBI double made it 8-0 and the Vikings made a pitching change.
Zach Bartoe took the mound, but walked the first two batters to force in a run for a 9-0 score.
Bartoe almost wiggled out of the bases-loaded jam to extend the game into a sixth inning, getting a fly ball to left and a 4-2 force out at home.
Kennedy clinched the win — and Trainer’s no-hitter — when he lined a two-out single the opposite way into right field, scoring Stephens for the 10-0 lead.
Athens had 13 hits in just the final three innings. Trainer was 3 for 3 with three RBIs. Stephens had a bunt single and drew three walks. Gail had two hits from the No. 9 spot in the lineup.
Every Athens starter had at least one base hit.
“I think we hadn’t been hitting real well the last few games,” Trainer said. “I think getting the three-spot in the third inning really energized everyone. Everyone loosened up and went out and hit.”
It was the end of the road for the Vikings, who were one of the surprise stories of the season. Vinton County finished alone in second place in the TVC-Ohio standings, coming a win away from what would have been its first league title in baseball since 1996.
The Vikings will graduate seniors DJ Norris, Lincoln Hayes and Bradlee Griffin.
Norris played right field, and Hayes left field on Tuesday. Vinton County can return the rest of its lineup intact next season.
“I’m truly going to miss all of them and spending time with them,” Barrell said. “Luckily we’ve got most of them coming back next year. So I’ll get to see them again.”
The Bulldogs will continue to play, as they will host No. 3 Zane Trace on Thursday at 5 p.m. in a sectional final.
Zane Trace defeated No. 6 Gallia Academy 6-4 on Tuesday.
Athens got its revenge on Vinton County, now it can set its sights on trying to claim a fourth consecutive sectional crown.
“The atmosphere tonight was awesome,” Trainer said. “Most people we’ve had here all year. We’ll all be ready for Thursday.”
Athens 10, Vinton County 0 (5 innings)
Vinton County 000 00 — 0 0 1
Athens 0034 3 — 10 15 0
Ash Abele, Zach Bartoe (5) and Zach Radabaugh
Nate Trainer and Carson Baker
WP — Trainer; LP — Abele