Resourceful Valley squeaks past Man 3-2
SMITHERS, W.Va. - With its dynamic offense bottled up by Man left-hander Braden Griffin Tuesday evening, Valley had to get resourceful - at the plate and on the mound.
Drew Jones scored a pair of runs with pure hustle and Arik McGinnis tallied the game-winner in similar style as the state-ranked Greyhounds escaped a pending upset with a 3-2 victory in the Class A Region 3 semifinals.
Valley (22-7), the No. 6 team in the Gazette's state ratings, advances to the regional final at Fayetteville (18-14) at 5 p.m. Thursday, with the winner earning a spot in the May 30-June 1 state tournament at Appalachian Power Park.
The Greyhounds are gunning for their third straight visit to the state tournament but nearly rolled snake eyes on Tuesday, trailing 2-1 to unheralded Man (6-21-1) going into the bottom of the fifth.
However, leadoff man Jones and No. 3 hitter McGinnis manufactured runs during a rally that produced just one hit - Jones' bunt single to start the inning. McGinnis, the team's senior ace, then shut the door with two innings of one-hit relief.
"That's the thing about baseball,'' said Valley coach Joe Craffey. "You can throw records out the window. I tried to tell the guys earlier in the week you can't rest on your laurels of what you did previously against a team. You've got to come ready to play every day. Their pitcher threw a good game, but we chased a bunch of bad pitches, too.''
Valley, carrying a hefty .414 team batting average before the game, managed just three singles against Griffin (52/3 innings, nine strikeouts) and reliever Cody Carter - Todd Coleman's bad-hop hit over the first baseman's head in the third, Jones' bunt in the fifth and Coleman's sharp single in the sixth.
In fact, there were no RBIs credited for any of the Greyhounds' runs.
Jones led off the bottom of the first with a walk, took second on a wild pickoff attempt, stole third and then scampered home when the throw from the third baseman back to the mound got away.
Man then grabbed a 2-1 advantage, getting an RBI single from No. 9 hitter Neil Mullins in the second and a run-scoring double from Cayce Mullins in the third.
The Hillbillies got their runs off reliever Cody Winter, who started the game at catcher but had to take over on the mound when freshman starter Druw Bowen (6-0, 2.15 ERA) developed discomfort in his elbow before the top of the second. Winter threw four innings and got the win.
"I don't know what's going on,'' Craffey said of the injury to Bowen, who played the remainder of the game at third and short. "We've got to find out.
"We're scrambling around and give Cody a lot of credit. He came in there after he'd been behind the plate and gave us four good innings. When he came to the park today, he had no idea he was going to pitch. To his credit, he sucked it up and did a damn good job. He got better as he went on.''
From there, it was left to Jones and Co. to small ball their way to victory in the fifth.
Jones dropped down a perfect bunt for a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch, again swiped third and scored on a wild pitch. McGinnis reached on a walk - one of eight issued by Griffin - and stole second.
After Winter was hit by a pitch, putting runners at first and second with one out, Bowen stroked a deep fly to center that was caught by Kenny Joe Adkins. McGinnis tagged and went to third and Winter, after a slight delay, tagged and also tried to advance. The Billies opted to cut down Winter at second, but he beat the rap, then McGinnis took off for home. Catcher Cayce Mullins appeared to have the plate blocked on the play, but McGinnis was ruled safe.
Jones, who leads the Greyhounds with 38 steals, realized his team was going to have to resort to Plan B to beat Man. The first two times through the order, Griffin held Valley's No. 2-3-4 hitters to an 0-for-6 effort with six Ks.
"I just figured I'd step up for my team,'' Jones said. "When I was on base, the guys did things to get me around, and I just made opportunities with my legs. I put it on my teammates for getting me around the bases.
"Guys seemed down, but the dugout kept people up after a while. The seniors pretty much told everybody to get up in the dugout, and that's pretty much how we stayed up the whole game. That's how we came through.''
McGinnis took over on the mound after Winter issued a leadoff walk in the top of the sixth. He fanned three in his two innings.
The last out of the game was a bang-bang play. With John Thomas Keffer at first after a two-out single, Carter ripped the ball to short. Bowen nearly made a diving stab in the air, but the ball plopped out of his glove. Sprawled on the ground, he then flipped the ball to Jones for the force at second, just beating Keffer to the bag.
The Billies, who lost to Valley 15-5 and 5-3 in the regular season, came in having won five of their last eight.
"This was a good regional game tonight,'' said Man coach Larry Vance. "Braden did a great job for us today. He's been doing that the second half of the season. We've been improving this year; we're getting better as the year goes on.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.