Grand finish for the Huskies
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the greater part of the evening, things didn't look so good for Herbert Hoover.
The Huskies went into the bottom of the fifth inning trailing Independence 3-0 Thursday night and for a large part of the game were without both their top pitcher and two of their better batters.
But all of that was washed away when Hunter White blasted a grand slam with none out in the bottom of the seventh inning to hand Hoover an improbable 7-3 victory in the second Class AA semifinal in front of an estimated crowd of 4,000-plus at Appalachian Power Park.
"We were a little worried,'' said Hoover coach Brian Young, "but we didn't hang our heads in that situation. We stuck with it in a tight ballgame and did a real nice job.''
The victory sends the Huskies (30-4), the No. 1 team in the Gazette's state ratings, into the championship game for a second straight season. They square off with No. 2 Fairmont Senior (28-6) at 10 a.m. Saturday for the AA crown.
No. 4 Independence (21-10) rode the strong pitching of Brian Sexton, who was given an early lead when the Patriots literally knocked Huskies starter Tristan Fields out of the game.
Brad Huffman's RBI single in the top of the first rocketed off Fields' right leg and he crumpled to the ground in pain. After a delay of about six minutes, Fields was assisted off the field and looked to be done for the day, taking his 7-1 pitching record and .424 batting average with him.
On top of that, the Huskies were without another top stick, as infielder Ryan Shamblin (.446) hurt his wrist in Wednesday's workout and didn't feel comfortable swinging the bat in Thursday's early batting practice, so he just played the field.
"You definitely get to that point,'' Young said, "where you don't think it's going to work out, but our kids kept saying 'one run's not going to get us, two runs aren't going to get us,' and we battled back. That's been our mentality all year.''
Hoover latched its hopes onto No. 2 pitcher Cody Bowen, and the junior delivered.
He inherited a 2-0 deficit when he took over for Fields with two out in the top of the first and allowed just one unearned run in his 61/3 innings, striking out six and walking none, keeping the Huskies in the game. He allowed a run-scoring single to Andrue Hughart in the fifth.
"The kid who came in really battled,'' Independence coach Scott Cuthbert said of Bowen. "Everybody talks about the rest of their team, but we only scored one run off him once the Fields kid came out. That was the big thing.
"With their team, you know they're eventually going to hit the ball in the gap or something like that. They have a really good baseball team and good offense. We were just trying to battle through it. If we could ever add one or two runs - who knows? But it didn't work out that way.''
Hoover started slicing into its deficit into the bottom of the fifth, getting an RBI grounder from Shaun Dotson that turned into an error, scoring Sean Craze, who led off with a ground-rule to right that bounced into the party deck. Dotson eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Scooter Farmer to make it 3-2.
Fields, after being checked in the dugout for several innings, was able to loosen up his injury and returned to the game to hit in the bottom of the fourth (smoking a single on the first pitch he saw) and played third base the rest of the way.
However, after Sexton retired the Huskies 1-2-3 in the home half of the sixth, they were down to their final at-bat the next inning.
Craze led off with a routine grounder to second that Drew D'Angelo couldn't handle. Dotson then dropped down an intended sacrifice bunt, but did it so well that he beat it out, putting two runners aboard.
Corey Bird, Hoover's skilled leadoff hitter and Marshall recruit, then ripped a double inches inside the third-base line, scoring Craze and putting runners at second and third, still with no one out. Indy then walked Farmer intentionally to load the bases and create a force at every base.
That brought up White, who hadn't hit a homer since last year, and then just that one. With the Huskies needing only a medium-depth fly ball to score Dotson from third, White delivered, launching Sexton's pitch over the left-field wall to end the game.
"I was just trying to get a sacrifice fly,'' White said, "because the guy on third was really fast, and he could score on a pop up. I just swung as hard as I could to try and get a pop up.
"It's the best feeling all year - it's the highlight of my season.''
Sexton finished up allowing eight hits and five earned runs, striking out one and walking two.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.