Baseball: Sun Valley’s gauntlet epitomizes rainy spring

If you’re looking for the poster child for the weather’s effect on the 2014 baseball season, look no further than Sun Valley.

Sun Valley catcher Mike Schnarrs puts the hold on the throw as Downingtown West's Nick Amicon scores.  (Times Staff/ROBERT J. GURECKI)

Sun Valley catcher Mike Schnarrs puts the hold on the throw as Downingtown West’s Nick Amicon scores. (Times Staff/ROBERT J. GURECKI)

Kraig Kaufhold’s team is living proof of what the crunch on games and a little untimely rain can do to a team. For evidence, check out the gauntlet of seven games in nine days his team went through a week ago.

The Vanguards that entered that stretch were 2-2. They exited at 2-9 in the Ches-Mont league where 19 league games and a high level of competitiveness makes for few off days.

Perhaps making the journey more arduous and the losses more stinging is the fact that in only one of those games was Sun Valley really blown out, a 13-0 loss to Downingtown West.

The other six games were decided by four runs or less. In two games – the 7-0 loss to Great Valley April 8 that kicked off the gamut and the 6-2 setback at the hands of Octorara that sealed it April 17 – the Vanguards were tied after five innings but unable to seal the deal. Then there was an 8-7 loss to Henderson in which they led 5-1.

Sprinkled in between was a 3-0 loss to Oxford, a 5-2 loss to Bishop Shanahan and a 15-11 slugfest with Kennett where a slow start doomed them.

The Oxford game, the third of seven, is the one of the lot that most haunts Kaufhold.

“We played a good game, but we didn’t come up with a timely hit,” he said. “We just couldn’t put anything together. Then we came out the next game, and Kennett jumped all over us, and I think we were a little bit deflated.”

With games in such quick succession, Kaufhold found the hangover effect from one loss to another particularly palpable, especially without the usual routine of a practice or a day off to clear their collective heads. One win early in that streak, and it’s likely the complexion of the Vanguards’ season is completely different.

The issue for Sun Valley was an inability to put all the pieces together. Defense hasn’t been a problem this season, but the offense and pitching has been hit-or-miss, literally. They didn’t score a run over the first three games of the stretch but were in two of the contests and could’ve swung the pendulum of momentum with one key hit that never arrived.

Once they started hitting against Kennett, they were at the bottom of the pitching rotation and couldn’t come up with enough offense to notch a win.

The subject of pitching has been a particularly difficult minefield for Kaufhold to manage. There may not be a squad in the PIAA with the kind of pitching depth to twice roll over the four to seven arms needed to navigate such a voluminous slate of games.

Kaufhold has a young staff to begin with – staff ace C.J. Pruitt is a junior, as are Tyler Hastings, Ryan Burton and Cody Herestofa, all of whom have logged major innings – so trying to piece that together day upon day was a challenge.

“You try to map it out as best you can, but you have to adjust to the game situations,” said Kaufhold, noting that his team’s competitiveness meant the D-West loss was the only chance to save arms. “Is it early and we’re down big? Is it late in a game and we’re battling back and hoping to close it out? Those kinds of things.”

At least there’s a silver lining. Though the Sun Valley losing streaks stands at nine games, lost in a frustratingly diverse plethora of ways, at least Kaufhold believes the growing pains will serve his youthful squad well, especially on the pitching staff.

“I think down the road, it will help us because of the way we’ve been stretched out,” he said. “We’ve used 11 pitchers this season. Ultimately for the guys that return, it will pay dividends.”

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