Hoover nails down state tourney berth
FALLING ROCK, W.Va. -- It didn't resemble many of Herbert Hoover's games this year, but it still gets the Huskies where they wanted to be all along - back at Appalachian Power Park.
Cody Bowen went the distance on a five-hitter Friday evening and Corey Bird ran wild on the bases to lead host Hoover to a 4-2 victory over Wayne in the Class AA Region 4 finals at Jeff Holliday Field.
The win sends the Huskies (29-3), the No. 1 team in the Gazette's state rankings, into a return engagement at next week's state tournament at Power Park. Hoover takes on No. 6 Independence (20-8) at approximately 7:15 p.m. on Thursday.
The Huskies fell to Wyoming East 1-0 in eight innings in last year's AA title game.
Friday's contest wasn't the pushover a lot of people were expecting, since Wayne (13-16) had dropped regular-season games to Hoover by scores of 14-2 and 18-2 - two of 18 games in which the Huskies invoked the mercy rule to shorten games.
In fact, a two-run homer by Zack Cassidy in the top of the seventh inning sliced the Huskies' lead in half and made for a few anxious moments. Bowen (6-1), however, wriggled out of the jam to complete the game without any further damage.
"It's one of those things,'' said Hoover coach Brian Young. "It's baseball. It happens. It seemed to happen to us last year. We left the ball up, it's a mistake, and their kid took advantage of it. We buckled back down and did what we had to do.''
Bowen entered the top of the seventh holding a seemingly comfortable 4-0 lead. At that point, he'd struck out five, walked none and allowed just two singles - one a bunt - and had faced just one batter over the minimum of 18 and thrown only 48 pitches.
But the first three batters for the Pioneers rapped hits in the seventh - Mikey Perry singled, Cassidy launched the ball over the left-field fence and Joey Williamson singled. Young elected to keep Bowen on the mound, however, and was rewarded when the next three batters made outs.
"In the regular season, it's really hard to judge a team like I've got,'' said Pioneers coach Todd Ross, "when you're not very deep in pitching, and you've got to gauge your week by when you want to throw your best pitchers. Sometimes you get lopsided scores and some different victories, but we had a lot of confidence when Mikey's on the hill and when our shortstop, Kodie Bowen, throws.''
Perry also threw a complete game for Wayne, fanning six and walking two while allowing six hits to Hoover's powerful attack.
"The kid did a nice job tonight,'' Young said of Perry. "He kept us off balance and hit his spots. He pitched us outside and inside and didn't let us get comfortable in the batter's box. We had opportunities at times. I thought we did OK at times hitting the ball when we needed to and scored a couple runs. I would have liked to have hit the ball a little bit more, but he did a nice job.''
Hoover grabbed a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth, scoring on an RBI double by Austin Thomas that smacked off Perry's leg on the mound and trickled into short left field. Hunter White also drove in a run when his grounder to second resulted in a throw home that was too late to get courtesy runner Michael Wingett.
Bird, who leads the Kanawha Valley with 50-plus stolen bases, then helped Hoover manufacture two more runs in the fifth with his legs.
He stroked a one-out single and swiped second and third as Scooter Farmer drew a walk off Perry. With runners at first and third, courtesy runner Zach Callen broke for second and the throw went to the shortstop off the bag. Wayne's Kodie Bowen fired home, but the throw was wild, scoring Bird to make it 3-0. Callen moved to third on the error and later scored on a wild pickoff attempt.
"I figured it would be a close game,'' said Bird, who stole five bases Friday. "It seems like in the regionals, you get the best even out of the mediocre teams. We try to maintain our discipline, play hard and play our best. We could've done more to put more runs on the board, but they did a nice job today.''
Shortstop Ryan Shamblin and third baseman Tristan Fields made nifty defensive plays in support of Cody Bowen. It turned out that the Huskies needed every solid play in the field because they managed just six hits.
"Today it was just plate approaches,'' Fields said. "We came up and were swinging at pitches we shouldn't have been swinging at. Then we focused on the ball and that's when we started hitting line drives and scored our runs.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.