With its back to wall, the New Oxford American Legion baseball team came up big yet again on Monday night.
Facing elimination, the Ox took out Myerstown, 1-0, before a sterling performance by starter Luke Rickrode to advance to Tuesday’s semifinals against defending champion Paxton.
“What an outstanding job by Luke,” New Oxford coach Scott Anderson said of the performance. “He does exactly what we try to get pitchers to do. Throw strikes. Work fast. Pitch to contact.”
Rickrode needed just 64 pitches in the complete game shutout, including 41 strikes and first-pitch strikes to 18 of 24 batters. His strike zone pounding style and a an impeccable New Oxford defense led to a game that lasted just one hour and 20 minutes.
Both teams were held scores through the first three innings of the contest, though the Ox put two on in both the top of the first and the top of the third before inning-ending double plays derailed the opportunities.
“I think we hit more balls hard than they did, we just couldn’t get some balls to fall. That’s why it’s so important you pitch and you play defense,” Anderson said.
That pressure finally paid off in the top of the fourth inning. Adam Pascoe started the New Oxford rally with a one-out single before a Myerstown error made it first and second with one down. Aaron Smith then laced a single to left but Pascoe was thrown out at home trying to score.
“We got aggressive there trying to get a run in and the kid made a good throw,” Anderson said.
The Ox would not be denied, however, as Jacob Little hit a hard ground ball to first that the Myerstown first baseman couldn’t handle and Bethas came around to score.
“It felt good. It kind of lifted a lot of stress off my shoulders,” Rickrode said of the go-ahead run.
From there on in, it was all Rickrode. The 2021 high school graduate surrendered just a single in the fourth inning and a double in the fifth inning to Myerstown, which had come in at 3-0.
He closed the game out in fashion, forcing Myerstown’s Wyatt Menzel to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game and keep New Oxford in the tournament.
The Ox will now take on Paxton at 3 p.m. in the semis of the double-elimination tournament. Should they win, Anderson’s men will have a rematch with Myerstown in the championship game, which is scheduled to start a 5:30 p.m.
“I hope we get to play them tomorrow,” Anderson said. “They’re a talented, well-coached baseball team. I can understand how they were 3-0. “
New Oxford 1, Myerstown 0
New Oxford 000 100 0 — 1 3 0
Myerstown 000 000 0 — 0 3 2
Luke Rickrode and Grant Jacoby; Evan Krall and Jeremy Eck. WP: Rickrode. LP: Krall. SO-BB: NO-Rickrode 1-1; M-Eck 2-4. 2B: M-Amani Jones