McKinney's gem leads Wyoming East back to AA finals
Sometime around noon on Saturday at Appalachian Power Park, the clock struck midnight on Liberty Harrison's Cinderella story.
Wyoming East's Travis McKinney turned in a masterful performance, striking out 12 in a four-hitter, and the Warriors (28-5) broke through on offense late for a 5-1 win in a Class AA semifinal.
They'll face Herbert Hoover in the AA championship game at about 4 p.m. today.
Liberty (10-22) entered the state tournament with by far the worst record in any class, but made an improbable run through sectionals and regionals to reach Charleston.
The Mountaineers battled and hung in for the majority of the game, trailing just 2-1 in the sixth inning, but a two-run single by Brian Lusk, East's No. 9 hitter, provided some breathing room and McKinney never allowed a window of opportunity to crack open.
McKinney was beyond efficient, allowing just one walk and one three-ball count all day while giving up just four singles and an unearned run.
"That's Travis," Wyoming East coach Ron Mayhew said. "Travis did a good job, and he always does. He's a battler out there, you've got to give him a lot of credit."
McKinney, one of just two seniors on the Warriors roster, got some experience on the mound at the APP last year as the Warriors made it all the way to the AA title game last year before falling to Chapmanville 8-0.
McKinney said last year's experience made him and his teammates more comfortable this time around.
"I think it helped a lot," McKinney said. "Austin [Canada] came up and got a hit, Christian [Hedinger] had three hits. Experience is a key I think. Four teams last year [reached the AA tournament] and we're the only one of the four here this year."
Hedinger drove in the game's first run with an RBI single in the first inning, scoring McKinney. Zach Whitten went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI for the Warriors.
Dylan Gain scored the only run for Liberty Harrison, coming around from first after Ty Noss legged out an infield single and Wyoming East first baseman Derek Laxton threw the ball past the third baseman. Noss advanced to second when Chase Alonso was hit by a pitch, giving the Mountaineers runners on first and second with one out, down by just one.
But McKinney struck out Joshua Davis and Matt Vincent to get out of the only real threat Liberty mustered.
Liberty interim coach Russ Nutt took over in the middle of the season and got his team through some treacherous waters en route to Saturday's appearance.
"Obviously it's been a great experience," Nutt said. "I told them in the dugout, a lot of people that have gone through a year like they've been through, adults or young people, probably would've bailed out and done a lot of finger pointing, and these guys didn't do that. I think they showed what kind of character they have inside of them to get here."
Liberty pitcher Alex Loar displayed a lot of character in battling through 61/3 innings despite walking six and struggling with control all day.
He proved especially efficient in wriggling out of jams and nearly got out of another one in the sixth. After Wyoming East loaded the bases with one out, Loar was able to strike out Joshua Zebosky and had Lusk in a 1-2 hole before delivering his two-run blow.
This will be Wyoming East's third trip to the AA title game. Prior to last year's loss to Chapmanville, the Warriors dropped a 7-2 decision to Bridgeport for the 2000 championship.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.