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Norris pitches Riverside to verge of sectional title

EAST BANK, W.Va. -- Riverside junior pitcher Cameron Norris might as well cancel any kind of lunch plans he may have for the rest of the baseball season, because after Friday night's performance, midday meals with coach Chris Hawkins will probably be mandatory.

Norris tossed a four-hit shutout, striking out 11 along the way as the Warriors held off Ripley 4-0 at Epling Field in East Bank and put the Vikings on the edge of elimination in Class AAA Region 3 Section 4 in the only completed prep baseball game in the Kanawha Valley on Friday.

The teams meet at 2 p.m. in Ripley today with the Warriors needing a win to clinch the section. A Ripley win would extend the series to next Thursday due to the Westest in Jackson County early next week.

Norris had enough gas to go the distance and was able to squirm out of a bases-loaded one-out situation in the seventh inning via his last two punchouts.

But it may have been a meeting of the minds at lunch on Friday that gave him the mental edge.

"Today he came and had lunch with me and he's had a rocky last four starts," Hawkins said. "We just kind of went man-to-man and I said, 'What do you think your problem is?' And he said, 'Well, we haven't been playing well, so I've been trying to do it all.' We just talked about getting back to the team concept, throwing to contact, and trusting your teammates, and that's what he did."

Norris may have pitched to contact, but Ripley wasn't able to hold up its end of that bargain on several occasions, including a stretch over the second, third and fourth innings in which seven straight Vikings went down via strikeout.

"He threw a heck of a game," Ripley coach Shane Casto said of Norris. "He had all of his pitches working for him, he kept us off balance, and hats off to him."

Ripley pitcher Isaac Koontz wasn't as dominant as Norris, but he was as effective, especially early, as he was able to match zeroes over the first three innings due to solid Ripley defense.

That changed in the fourth inning when Brady Wilkinson led off with a single to right field.

Aaron Halstead followed with a sacrifice bunt back to Koontz but instead of taking the sure out at first base, he fired to second, only to have Wilkinson beat the throw.

Chaz Davis came up next and again laid down a bunt. This time, Ripley third baseman Nathan Tucker fielded and threw to shortstop Chris Jordan who was covering third, but the throw was wide, allowing Wilkinson to score.

"We put a couple of bunt plays on - it's stuff we work on every day," Casto said. "It's just one of those things where we didn't execute when we needed to."

After Trevor Rumberg struck out, Hawkins chose to insert freshman Holden McMichen as a pinch-hitter and the youngster rewarded his coach with what was originally a two-run double to the left-center gap. McMichen was called out at first on an appeal, erasing the hit and resulting in the second out of the inning, but the runs counted and the damage was done.

Tyler Hall added a solo home run in the fifth to account for all the scoring.

Riverside (11-15) would've likely scored several more if not for numerous base-running blunders that included one runner getting picked off at first, McMichen's missing of first base, and 6-2-5 and 1-5-4-1 tagouts.

"It's something we've got to get fixed because you can't depend on your pitcher to go out there and perform like that every time," Hawkins said.  

"There in the last inning, he ended up loading them up and one of the first things I thought was, 'It would've been nice if we could've pushed two or three across when we had them in position.'"

Despite not playing a flawless game on Friday and falling well short of its goal of 20 regular-season wins, Riverside does find itself in perfect position to capture its second straight section title.

"We don't care how we win, we don't care how we got here, just as long as we get it done," Hawkins said. "That was the kids' perspective coming in. I was preaching to them, they were preaching to each other, and they were telling the coaches, 'We haven't played our best ball yet and when sectional play starts, we're going to be ready.' Really, the last three or four games of the season and against Capital yesterday our plate approaches are better, the defense has been better and our pitching has been superb."

Wilkinson, Hall and Rumberg each had a pair of hits for Riverside, with Rumberg adding a triple.

Cody Pittenger had the lone multi-hit effort for the Vikings (10-22), going 2 for 3.

Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, ryan.pritt@wvgazette.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.


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