GARDINER — Oak Hill baseball coach Chad Stowell was a pitcher in his playing days. He knows the frustration of being unable to finish hitters off.
On Monday, he got to see things from the other side.
Showcasing a knack for two-strike hitting, the Raiders won their fifth straight game by defeating Gardiner 6-4. Oak Hill improved to 7-2, while Gardiner, which had been riding a four-game streak of its own, fell to 4-5.
“We’re in a pretty good spot,” Stowell said. “We had really good innings where we just seemed to always get one, get one, get one, and we were able to kind of hold them off.”
The Raiders got a strong effort on the mound from Ethan Vattaso, who struck out seven and allowed four runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings. Gardiner starter Noah Reed struck out 10 in 4 1/3 innings, and reliever Wyatt Chadwick fanned four in 2 2/3.
But even with the strikeouts, it was the ones that got away that hurt the Gardiner duo. Nine Oak Hill batters reached base after reaching two strikes in the count, including four of the Raiders’ seven hits.
“We have a philosophy where we’re trying to find pitches that we want to hit early in the count,” Stowell said. “And we have to feel confident that, if we get behind in the count, that we have the ability to hit pitchers. I think we’re a very good fastball-hitting team, and I think when you’re a good fastball-hitting team you don’t feel as afraid to get to a two-strike count because you know you can adjust to a fastball.”
It was a theme from the start. The first batter of the game, Gavin Rawstron (1-for-2, two runs) hit a two-strike single to center and scored on a wild pitch. In the second, after Vattaso (2-for-4, three RBIs) led off with a single and stole second, Jackson Arbour drove him in with a two-strike single to left.
“We have a few hitters that hit for power, but other than that we all hit for contact hits,” Rawstron said. “When we’re in the box, we’re all focusing middle, away, doesn’t matter if there are no strikes or two strikes.”
In the third, all six Oak Hill batters reached two strikes, but the Raiders still scratched across a run to make it 3-0 when Trent Drouin walked, stole second, went to third on an error and scored on Vattaso’s groundout. Gardiner made it 3-2 in the bottom half, but Oak Hill got its cushion back in the fifth when Vattaso had a two-run single through a drawn-in infield with — you guessed it — two strikes.
“Coach tells us to go up there and swing. Don’t look for walks, you have to be aggressive to put up runs for our pitchers,” Vattaso said. “Our one through nine, everyone can hit. We’ve been practicing it all year.”
By being difficult to finish off, Oak Hill extended at-bats and therefore innings. While Vattaso and reliever Kyle Delano needed 125 pitches to finish the game, the Raiders worked Reed to 107 in 4.1 innings, and the two Tiger pitchers to 167 in total.
“(We know) how hard it is for a pitcher if your pitch count gets high, your arm gets tired, you start walking people, you start losing momentum,” Rawstron said. “When you leave that one ball over the middle and someone takes advantage of it, momentum swings.”
Reed went 3-for-4 with a double and RBI for Gardiner, while Darien Jamison went 1-for-3 with two RBIs and Kyle Adams scored two runs. The Tigers threatened for more runs throughout the afternoon, but left seven runners.
“We stranded a lot of guys on base. We couldn’t get that timely hit to put runs across,” Gardiner coach Charlie Lawrence said. “That’s our big thing right there, is to stay mentally focused. I felt like we didn’t stay mentally focused and finish the job when we had the chance.”
Gardiner closed to within 6-4 in the seventh when Drew Kelley reached on an error and scored on Jamison’s hit. The Tigers had the tying run at the plate but couldn’t continue the rally.
“We’re in a good spot,” Lawrence said. “We’re playing decent baseball, we’ve just got to push ourselves a little harder.”