In the early stages of the 2022 Prospect League season, Chillicothe has raced to the top of the pack in the Ohio River Valley Division.
On the way to building a 10-3 record to start the season, the Paints have used a proven formula for success – good pitching, solid defense and timely hitting.
Wednesday night at Linda K. Epling Stadium, the Paints used that formula to perfection in a 6-0 win over West Virginia.
“It starts on the mound. Our starting pitcher, Justin Diefenbach was able to get ahead of pretty much everybody, so that was huge,” Chillicothe manager Jackson White said. “He did a good job and when he got ahead 0-2, he didn’t waste many either. I am really proud of him.”
Diefenbach was a machine on the mound through four innings allowing only only a bloop single to right and an infield single.
The Miners finally built a threat in the bottom of the fifth with three straight singles, but the Paints defense made two big plays to keep the home team scoreless.
Centerfielder Ben Gbur gunned down Stephen Karis trying to score from second on a base hit before the Paints wiped out the threat with their second double play in as many innings.
Heading to the sixth inning, Chillicothe had built a manageable 2-0 lead behind a solo blast from Santrel Farmer and a two-out, RBI-single from Connor Ashby.
The visitors doubled their margin with another solo blast from Tim Orr and another two-out run scoring single from Ashby.
“We struggled a little bit offensively, but then obviously we found some barrels later on,” White said. “When you throw a lot of strikes, you expect the defense to make those plays and they did, so I was really happy.”
The remaining runs came in the final frame when Farmer hit his second solo blast of the night and Orr drove in his second run of the game.
Farmer had two home runs, a double and a single, while Ashby and Orr each had three hits and two RBI.
Diefenbach (1-1) was lifted in the eighth due to the pitch count restrictions and Jace Middleton came on to close it out without allowing a hit.
“He buried the ball. He threw inside and backed us off,” West Virginia manager Tim Epling said about Diefenbach. “He ran his fastball up there pretty good. Our guys have to make adjustments, but the more they see that type of pitching the better they will get. They have a good club and they put guys in scoring position. They look like us back in 2013. We could pitch it, play defense and we ran the bases.”
The win Wednesday was the seventh in a row for the Paints who head home for six straight games.
White explained what he felt has been the key to the early season success for his club.
“Just being loose and being tough on them when we need to be,” White said. “I understand this is summer ball and they had long spring ball seasons. We try to give them rest when we need to and keep them fresh. Keeping them loose, that is the biggest thing in college I think.”
After dropping the two-game series to the Paints, the Miners head out on the road for a two-game set with Johnstown Thursday and Friday.
The Mill Rats snapped an eight-game losing streak Wednesday with a 6-5 win at Champion City.
“Right now it is all about the approach. It’s a long haul. We still have several games and we have two halves. We are just preparing them right now,” Epling said.
After the two games at Johnstown, the Miners will travel to Chillicothe for a doubleheader Saturday before returning home to play Danville Monday and Tuesday.