CLOVER HILL — A familiar face provided the finishing touch on an even and hard-fought series between Clover Hill and Luray.
Two nights removed from being the winning pitcher in a series-tying win on the road, Clover Hill left-hander Ian Ostlund came on in relief and iced the game — again — as the Bucks returned to the championship series for a second consecutive year with a 5-3 victory Sunday in a winner-take-all Game 5 of the Rockingham County Baseball League semifinals.
Second-seeded Clover Hill travels to top-seeded Stuarts Draft on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the best-of-seven championship series. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in a rematch of last year’s finals.
The 36-year-old Ostlund entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning nursing a 4-2 lead. The lefty, who played for several years in the minor leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals, pitched 3 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and one unearned run to record his most important save of the season.
“You expect to be the guy out there when the game is on the line,” Ostlund said. “I’ve been in lots of pressure-packed games in my life. I was relying on staying relaxed and executing my pitches.”
Staving off elimination, Clover Hill battled back from a 2-0 deficit in the series to win three straight against the up-and-coming Cavemen. Luray, in just its second year in the RCBL, pushed Clover Hill further than many thought they would.
“These guys gave everything they [had] game in and game out,” Luray manager Larry Weaver said of his team. “When you get your opportunities to score runs or get the big out, you have to take advantage of it. We just came up two runs short.”
Clover Hill jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings. Shane Banks and Christian Simmers both contributed RBI singles to lead the charge.
Luray responded in the top of the third inning. The Cavemen loaded the bases with no outs, but Tommy Weaver grounded into a run-scoring 6-4-3 double play. Then, Cody Swisher lined an RBI single off the foot of Clover Hill starter Nick Corbin to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Clover Hill extended its lead in the bottom of the fifth when Ian Eberly scored on Andrew Weaver’s RBI single. Brenan Hanifee added an RBI groundout in the sixth to extend the Bucks’ lead to 5-2.
The only run Luray could muster in the final six frames was due to a Clover Hill miscue. Cody Swisher hit a one-out single to left field and made it to third base when Eberly’s throw bounced through Simmers’ legs at second base towards the right field line. Luke Shiflett hit an RBI groundout to score Swisher in what amounted to be the final run of the game.
Clover Hill manager Mike Martin cited “veterans that refuse to get rattled” and “pitching depth” as two key components in the even series.
Part of that depth was Ostlund coming out of the bullpen. He escaped the eighth inning unscathed and went 1-2-3 in the ninth to send the Bucks into celebration mode.
“We demonstrated resilience,” Ostlund said. “It’s a team effort. It’s a team victory. Right now, I feel like we are starting to hit on all our cylinders and it couldn’t be at a better time.”
Luray 002 000 100 — 3 12 0
Clover Hill 210 011 00x — 5 9 1
Conley, N/A (7) and Whitelow; Corbin, Maze (5), Ostlund (6) and Bowman. W— Maze L—Conley S— Ostlund.