Van Buren's ace leads team past Heritage.
Ethan Holmes had the big arm and the big bat for the Van Buren Pointers on Monday.
Holmes tossed a complete-game gem and knocked in two runs in leading Van Buren to a 3-0 win against Rogers Heritage at the Field of Dreams in the first game of the 7A-West two-day series.
Van Buren (12-1, 4-1) travels to Heritage on Tuesday to complete the home-and-away conference series.
Monday, Holmes and Heritage right-hander Logan Easley, who has signed with Wichita State, squared off in a battle of staff aces.
“We knew coming in that it was probably going to be a low-scoring game,” Van Buren head coach David Loyd said. “Both guys threw really, really well.”
Easley came in with both of the conference wins for Heritage (4-10, 2-3) in a pair of 2-1 wins against Springdale and Rogers in which he went the distance in both games. Against Springdale, he gave up a single run and struck out 10 in a 106-pitch outing. Against Rogers, Easley also yielded just a lone run in a 99-pitch victory.
Monday, Van Buren touched Easley for single runs in the second and third innings, staking Holmes to a 2-0 lead.
“It was good early to get ahead and not let them stay in the game,” Holmes said.
Ethan Rauser walked with an out in the second inning, and after a second out scored on a towering double by Jeremiah Douglas off the base of the wall in deep left centerfield.
Left-handed leadoff hitter Landrey Wilkerson turned on a two-strike pitch and lined it down the right-field line for a lead-off double in the third inning. After Chase Moore moved him over with a sacrifice bunt, Wilkerson scored on Holmes’ base hit through the hole between short and third for a 2-0 lead.
“We were fortunate we got guys on and got big hits to knock one in the second and one in the third,” Loyd said. “We were able to relax and play. We played really well, defensively.”
That was plenty of support for Holmes on the mound, who needed just 83 pitches to go the distance.
He did have to pitch around some trouble in the seventh inning. Easley led off with a single, and Kaleb Gavin followed and reached when his check-swing off the knob of the bat squirted just a few feet down the third-base line and Van Buren failed to make a play.
“It didn’t bother me,” Holmes said. “We still had a three-run lead and their lineup was getting toward the end so I felt alright.”
Holmes struck out the next two batters and retired the final batter on a weak grounder to first to complete the 91-minute game.
“My fastball felt live out of my hand, and I threw some pretty good curve balls, too” Holmes said. “Normally, I throw about 100 pitches a game and I was only at about 70 going into that last inning so I still had it.”
Holmes went to three balls on just one batter in the game, and threw 56 of his 83 pitches for strikes.
“He did a great job and kept us off-balance,” Heritage head coach Mitch Cameron said. “We had three or four hard contacts all game.”
Holmes had nine- and seven-pitch innings, in the third and fourth innings, and then just 11-pitch innings in the fifth and sixth.
“That’s something we talked about before the game,” Loyd said. “We wanted to keep his pitch count down because it’s been getting up the last couple of times out. He did a great job of getting ahead of hitters and making them swing the bat. Then we did a good job of throwing guys out when they did hit it.”
Holmes retired five batters on the first pitch, and four more on the second pitch.
“That’s nice,” Loyd said. “When you throw strikes and challenge them they have to swing the bat. We got a couple of first-pitch outs. Everybody kind of relaxes and just plays when you get that first out. He did a super job of getting ahead of hitters and letting us play defense behind him.”
Holmes also turned away a threat in the third inning when Van Buren led just 1-0. Noah Guill led off with a double to deep center. Holmes retired the next three batters, striking out the next one before a liner to left and a popup.
“It was 1-0, leadoff double and tried to get him over,” Cameron said. “We stress execution. We tried to bunt him over and didn’t get the job done. The next guy comes up and hits a fly ball that probably would have scored him and tied it at 1-1. That right there makes a big momentum shift if you can do that. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to execute and we don’t get that run.”
After the double, Holmes retired the next 10 batters.
“Ethan did a super job out there competing and throwing strikes,” Loyd said. “That’s our style. We don’t always put a lot of runs on the board, but we’re pretty proud of the way we pitch and play defense. That really carried us today.”
Van Buren added an insurance run in the fifth inning. Moore legged out an infield hit, swiped second, and scored on Holmes’ double over the leftfielder, driving in his second run of the game to go with his shutout on the mound.
“All the stars aligned today,” Holmes said. “It felt good.”