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Willard's HR in 7th lifts Valley past Clear Spring

July 11, 2006|by TIM KOELBLE

CHEWSVILLE - Clear Spring had defending District 1 11-12 champion Valley on the ropes. But there was one problem - Valley had time to rally.

Valley scored single runs in the fifth and sixth innings to forge a 6-6 deadlock and, in the top of the seventh inning, Ryne Willard unleashed a long three-run home run that gave Valley a 9-6 win over Clear Spring.

With reliever Nick Hill on the mound following a gutsy six-inning performance by Sam Elwood, Valley's Ryan Bolton smacked a one-out single and Tyler McKenzie followed with a walk. Luke Toms, who had emptied the bases with a three-run double in the second inning, flied out and Clear Spring was one out away from quelling the Valley threat.

Willard stepped to the plate and promptly smashed a pitch far over the fence in right-center that put Valley back at home tonight at 6 p.m. against West End. He raised both arms above his head immediately after the ball-bat impact.

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"I was looking for a fastball and I got one out over the plate," said Willard, who's hit 12 home runs this season. "Oh yeah, this is the biggest one (homer) by far. It was big time."

He gives plenty of his credit with the bat to his father, who spends countless time and energy feeding him pitches to hit.

"(Dad) throws me about 200 pitches a day," Willard said.

In his six innings of pitching, Willard recorded 12 strikeouts, which he said was a career high.

Manager Greg Spickler said Willard, one of Valley's six veterans returning from its championship last year, "has been our leading clutch hitter. He's a solid little player."

Clear Spring scored twice off Willard in the first inning on an error and a run-scoring single by Chad Lowery before Valley came back with four off Sam Elwood in the second.

After an effective opening inning, Elwood started the second with three consecutive walks and each scored on Toms' double that gave Valley a 4-2 lead before Elwood regained his control.

"(Sam) started strong and I think he started guiding his pitches in the second," said Clear Spring manager Craig Elwood. "He found his rhythm and started throwing more strikes. I give credit to Valley's hitters. ... We were trying to work the corners on both sides and they hit the baseball."

Sam Elwood walked to lead off the third and, after a passed ball, scored on a single by Zach Kees to cut the deficit to 4-3.

In the fourth, Clear Spring backed Valley up against the ropes with a three-run, two-out rally. Hill walked, Austin Yost singled and Sam Elwood drilled a first-pitch offering from Willard deep beyond the left-center-field fence for a two-run lead.

"I had knots in my stomach," said Greg Spickler, who used Brad Spickler in the seventh inning on the mound to preserve the Valley win. "Before the game, we emphasized how important this game was for us. It was important for us to win to properly set up our pitching rotation.

"Clear Spring has a nice team and I knew from seeing (Sam) Elwood in some other games that he was a good pitcher."

Valley banged out 10 hits, including three by Nick Martin, while Clear Spring had nine, including two hits by Hill.

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