CENTENARY, Ohio — Not only did the Blue Devils bring their now knickknack — and noteworthy — shovel to each of their games for the last month, but they put it to excellent use.
On Monday, they finally finished the job.
“All finished,” said veteran Gallia Academy High School baseball coach Rich Corvin.
That’s because the young Blue Devils dug themselves out of an 0-2 hole in the Ohio Valley Conference standings — and remarkably captured their second consecutive conference championship, following Monday’s 1-0 victory over visiting Rock Hill at Gallia Academy High School’s Robert Eastman Ballfield.
Indeed, it was quite the completed comeback for the Blue Devils, which were 0-2 in the OVC following back-to-back one-run home losses (2-1 to South Point and 5-4 to Fairland) in the league’s opening two days.
At that point, they started bringing a blue-painted shovel with white letters “GA” striped on it, hanging as a symbol in their dugout.
And, dig out of that deficit they did, going on to win six consecutive contests at one stretch — most of which were in the OVC.
Finally, on Monday, in a de facto championship tilt against the Redmen, the Blue Devils dug out the very last bit to repeat as conference champions.
With the 1-0 win, in which it scored an earned run in the opening inning and rode the arm of sophomore pitching ace Josh Faro throughout, Gallia Academy ends its OVC slate at 10-4 —clinching at least a share of the league title.
The Blue Devils are now 13-7, snapping a two-game losing streak in the process.
“The whole story for the last month was not to make that shovel simply something that we carry. Let’s make it a story. A lot of people carry things to games, but let’s make it a story and let’s finish digging our way out,” said Corvin. “So every night, we dug a little bit deeper, dug a little bit deeper. Tonight, we finished it and we reached the top.”
Last season, an experienced GAHS squad won the OVC outright, but this year’s unit was much younger, lacked varsity experience — and faced a lot of question marks.
Consider them all answered — except for whether the Blue Devils will be outright OVC champs or co-champs.
Coal Grove is 9-4 in the OVC, as its league finale at Chesapeake on Monday was rained out.
They were scheduled to play on Tuesday in a makeup, as a Coal Grove victory meant the Blue and White would share the conference crown.
Still, that was of little concern to Corvin, given the graduation losses from a year ago.
“I was a little concerned early about what we were going to be able to do on the field. But we have great kids. I said in the winter-time that this was going to be a great group to coach,” he said.
One of those young standouts was the left-hander Faro, who dominated the Redmen in throwing a five-hit, two-walk, 128-pitch complete-game masterpiece.
He struck out 10 and stranded six, collecting at least one strikeout in every inning — including four Redmen in a row at one point.
He retired the side 1-2-3 in the first and fourth innings, and faced four Redmen apiece in the second, fifth, sixth and seventh stanzas.
When Faro did allow a baserunner, he escaped the jams to maintain the 1-0 advantage.
In the second, he allowed leadoff walks to Kaleb Kidd and Landon Smith, but his pickoff move caught Kidd between first and second on a steal attempt.
He then struck out the final two Redmen in the inning.
In the third, Jake Blagg and Cody Lewis landed back-to-back two-out singles, but again Faro finished the inning with a strikeout of Logan Hankins.
In the sixth, Hankins reached on a one-out bunt single and advanced to third on a Gallia Academy error, but Faro retired Kidd and Smith once again.
In the seventh, Kyle Stanfield singled, but Faro picked him off at first base for the first out.
Finally, Seth Nichols —who singled in the fifth — reached on another error, but Faro finished the affair with his 10th and final ‘K’.
“We hand the ball over to Faro, who has 10 strikeouts and his pickoff move was great tonight. His performance was huge and that kid is special. Mark it down, May 1 of 2017, that guy is special to go out there as a sophomore and do that,” said Corvin. “When you have a guy like that you can hand the ball to in big games, you feel pretty good. And the defense played well behind him too.”
Faro outdid Smith, who also went the distance for Rock Hill (10-5, 8-5 OVC) —and allowed only the earned run on four hits and four walks with six strikeouts.
John Stout led off the Blue Devils’ initial at-bat with a double, Cole Davis bunted him over to third, and Garrett McGuire’s RBI-groundout to score Stout proved to be the only point.
“That’s good baseball for us. And that’s what we really need to do, but we don’t do it enough,” said Corvin.
But, it was enough on Monday.
In the fourth, Jeremy Brumfield doubled and Dylan Smith singled, as Brody Thomas tallied the club’s final hit — a single in the seventh.
Corvin, who is concluding his 14th season as the GAHS skipper, won his seventh league championship as a coach.
When Gallia Academy was a member of the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League, the Blue Devils shared the title in 2006 and again three years ago — sandwiched around outright crowns in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
But in doing his part to help these Blue Devils dig their way to this year’s OVC championship, Corvin said that this one is at or near the top.
“This has got to be up there, probably the best out of all of those league titles to be honest,” he said. “I will go to my grave in coaching that this is why league championships are important. Tournament is great, but only four teams are going to walk out with a championship trophy there. This is why I value league championships. This feels really good.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106