State steps into WVC baseball title game
BECKLEY, W.Va. - In the eighth inning Friday at the West Virginia Conference baseball tournament, there was no way baserunner Noah Blackhurst was going to get held up at third base.
In the ninth, there was no way pitcher Jordan Butcher was coming out.
Both scenarios worked out for West Virginia State, which scored its first-ever win over ninth-ranked Seton Hill 2-1 and send the Yellow Jackets (30-17) to the championship game today at Linda K. Epling Stadium. State will face Concord at 1 p.m. with an NCAA tournament bid on the line. Concord advanced with a 6-3 win over Fairmont State in Friday night's final elimination game.
Earlier in the day, Seton Hill eliminated the University of Charleston with an emphatic 13-2 rout.
Butcher, West Virginia State's starter, and Seton Hill's Bob Carbaugh were locked in a pitchers' duel, with Carbaugh carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Neither had a high pitch count - Butcher didn't hit 100 for his nine innings.
With one out in the top of that eighth, Blackhurst finally solved Carbaugh, singling up the middle. After Eric Craft flied out, Cody Smith belted a shot to the wall in left-center field.
It seemed that Sean Loyd, the assistant coach manning the third-base box, signaled Blackhurst around the bases before Smith's long drive even hit the ground. The throw to the plate was off, Smith had an RBI double and State owned a 1-0 lead.
The next batter, Joshua Kiser, golfed a single to center, scoring Smith to give the Jackets a 2-0 lead.
"He wanted to put the pressure on them, and it had to be a perfect throw," said Blackhurst, a Hurricane grad. "Earlier in the tournament I got thrown out once, and luckily the throw was a little off and I slid in there."
"He's going all the way," said State coach Cal Bailey. "You get in a game like this, one break, a bobble, and that's what happened. We're going to send him; we're the visiting team and we're going to try to get every run we can get."
That set the stage for Butcher to close out the game in the bottom of the ninth, but that wasn't easy. A Pat McCarthy single and two walks loaded the bases with one out, and sent Bailey on a long, slow stroll to the mound.
Bailey was buying time for closer Joshua Falbo to get warmed up, but that wasn't Plan A.
"Butcher's a senior, an all-conference pitcher. I went out to the mound in the ninth inning and I told him, 'We're going with you, sink or swim.'" Bailey said. "Get a little color in your face, take a deep breath."
Bailey's confidence in Butcher nearly blew up with the next batter, Josh Forbes.
Forbes hit a hot shot toward first baseman Andrew Pickering, richocheting off the Nitro graduate's foot and into the air. Fortunately for the Jackets, the ball went straight to second baseman Jordan Simpson, a defensive replacement for Blackhurst.
Simpson simply returned the ball to Pickering for a 3-4-3 putout, with an inconsequential run scoring.
Cody Herald grounded to third to end the game, but only after he missed the foul line by the width of the baseball on an earlier stroke to left. A fair ball likely would have given the Griffins a 3-2 lead.
"When that ball was hit, my heart dropped," Butcher said. "[The umpire] called it foul, and I took a deep breath, came back and finished off the game."
The result eliminated Seton Hill (39-15), though the Griffins are considered safe for an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II tournament. They were ranked third in the Atlantic Region heading into the week.
The Griffins banged out 18 hits against three UC pitchers. Nick Sell went 2 for 4 with a home run and three RBIs while Mike Cima was 3 for 4 with a double, a two-run homer and two hit-by-pitches.
UC (20-29) finally foiled Brett Sullivan's shutout in the bottom of the sixth on Robert Collin's two-run double.
"Season-speaking, we're not pleased with the overall result, especially with last year's success," said Bradley. "But the thing to remember, it's been years and years since we've put together back-to-back 20-win seasons. I can't tell you when we've had a chance to go back to the conference tournament two years in a row, let alone win a couple of games each year.
"We're losing seven seniors. They're walking across the stage [today at graduation] with their diplomas, and [in] our program, our institution, that's a lot bigger than the games we're going to win or lose."
Jeremy Walter delivered the go-ahead blow, a two-run single with one out.
The Falcons chipped Shepherd's lead all the way to 7-6, but Ryan Messina's home run gave the Rams (26-22) an insurance run - or so they thought.
Nick Mayle picked up the win for Fairmont, but the Falcons rode the arm of Tyler Kincaid into the late innings. Kincaid relieved for Ryan Fenwick, finally retired the side in the second and then delivered five scoreless innings. He yielded to Mayle during the eighth, after Messina's home run.
Tyler Coyle pitched a complete game, giving up seven hits and striking out seven. Fairmont (23-25) scored three in the bottom of the fifth, all with two outs, but Coyle struck out Jeff Fansler to end the threat.
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