BECKLEY, W.Va. - Garrett Kiser says you can slide a long way on the all-turf surface at Linda K. Epling Stadium - and not just on the base paths.
Thursday night at the West Virginia Conference baseball tournament, the West Virginia State left fielder almost had to slide out of the park to preserve his team's 4-3 lead. His diving catch on the warning track in deep left-center robbed Shepherd's Kyle Porter of a three-RBI hit.
With that and Andrew Pickering's seventh-inning home run, the Yellow Jackets went on down the Rams 5-3. State (29-17) moves on to play at 3:30 p.m. today against the winner of the early game between the University of Charleston and Seton Hill.
"When I caught the ball, I slid and a cleat hit into the wall," said Kiser, a St. Albans native. "I probably [slid] 8 or 10 feet."
The catch brought his teammates out of their dugout in jubilation, because they knew the Rams could have delivered a major gut-punch.
"That was a hell of a catch," said State coach Cal Bailey. "[Assistant coach] Sean Loyd came to me and said, 'Do you think we need to be playing [the batter] more toward the line? Because he's probably going to hit the ball this way.' I said, 'I don't think he's going to get it over [the fielder's] head.'
"Well, he didn't get it overhead [chuckles]. But he hit it beyond where we were standing. That was a game-saving catch right there."
That defensive gem stranded three Shepherd runners, allowing Tyler Thompson to get the win and Joshua Falbo to pitch the ninth for the save. Falbo loaded the bases before getting No. 9 hitter T.J. Weisenberg to strike out to end it.
Thompson struck out nine, surviving seven walks and two hit batsmen - and those came in the first four batters. He escaped another hit-by-pitch in the sixth inning on Ryan Messina, who tried to show the umpire a welt on his wrist, but to no avail.
Messina, who hit a two-run homer the previous inning, then struck out, setting up Porter's fateful long fly to left-center field.
Down 1-0, State unloaded on Shepherd starter Davis Hall for four runs in the third, all coming in consecutive at-bats - a Jack Hudson sacrifice fly followed by RBI singles by Anthony Payne, Kiser and Eric Craft. Messina's two-run shot in the fifth inning cut the Jackets's edge to 4-3.
In the bottom of the seventh, Pickering led off with his homer, an opposite-field shot to left.
"Pickering, he hit that home run and that made a lot of difference," Bailey said. "There's a lot less tightness than there is at one [run ahead]. If we could have gotten a couple of runs, we could have breathed a little easier [but] that's the kind of ball we've played all year."
Shepherd (26-21) faces an elimination game at 12:30 p.m. today against Fairmont State, which breezed past Davis & Elkins 10-3 on Thursday. The Rams would have to win that game, plus beat Concord at 6:30, to make it to Saturday.
The Jackets will have to play just once today, and a victory sends them straight to the championship game Saturday.
Concord 5, UC 1