Ligonier Valley baseball learning to win close games

| Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Rick Ross wasn't disrespecting his coach when he came off the field after the sixth inning at Northern Cambria last week.

With the game tied 4-4 and one inning to play, the Ligonier Valley junior pitcher was simply demonstrating a desire to finish what he started.

“As he came off the field, he told me ‘I'm not coming out. I'm finishing this game,' ” Rams' coach John Jones said. “Then he went out and pitched a great seventh inning.”

Ross not only finished the game, but he earned the win in the 5-4 decision after fellow junior Jordan Jones, the coach's son, knocked in the go-ahead run in the top of the inning.

The younger Jones posted a pair of game-winning hits last week, as Ligonier Valley won two of three District 6 Heritage Conference tilts to raise its record to 3-3.

The Rams beat Saltsburg and Northern Cambria, then fell to Marion Center in an extra-inning affair. All three contests were decided by one run.

In fact, all but one of Ligonier Valley's conference games have been decided by either one or two runs, and with a couple of breaks, the Rams could be closer to the top of the standings than the middle of the pack.

“We're two defensive plays and one clutch hit away from being 6-0,” Jones said after his team's performance last week. “This is a young team, and we're getting better every day.

“I'd like to be better than 3-3, but we're just getting started.”

Ligonier Valley's stable of young pitchers was on display at Marion Center last week, as sophomore Jake Schott earned his first varsity start. Schott gave up just one run in three innings of work before freshman Wyatt Stouffer was brought in to replace him in the 5-4 defeat.

With weather postponements limiting the number of days between games, Jones and his assistant coaches have been cautious with the pitching staff thus far.

“We're very careful with our pitchers,” Jones said. “You know they want to throw more, but we err on the side of caution.

“I'd rather pull my pitcher 10 pitches too early than one pitch too late.”

Offensively, the Rams have been getting production from a number of players, including junior Luke Ferlin, sophomore Brian Custer and freshman Hunter Mills.

Ferlin, who has been a starter since his freshman year, has a knack for making solid contact on most of his trips to the plate.

“He's been hitting the ball hard,” Jones said of Ferlin's batting prowess.

As the season progresses, Jones is hoping to see more complete efforts from his team, and in turn, more wins.

“We haven't been able to put everything together consistently yet — pitching, hitting and defense,” Jones said. “We were up in a lot of the games that we lost, but some things went wrong and we came out on the wrong side of it.

“That will benefit us down the road. These kids are growing up right before my eyes.”

Kevin Ritchart is a freelance writer.

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