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Rich Stevens: Game-winner not a homer but tourney sure was

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The verdict?              

In a lot of ways, there isn't a verdict.

Officially, the hit by Hunter White in the seventh inning that gave Herbert Hoover a 7-3 semifinal victory over Independence was a grand slam, setting off a wild celebration and creating one of the most magical moments at the State Tournament - at least since it moved to Appalachian Power Park in 2005.

Unofficially - and, it turns out correctly - the hit was a single, bouncing off the warning track in left field and bounding off the wall.

There were questions about where the ball hit after coming off White's bat. Not long after it happened, I received a couple texts from folks sitting in the outfield, declaring it wasn't a home run. A day later, emails followed.

Giving the matter its due diligence, I called Independence leftfielder Tanner Muovich, the guy in the video seen - back turned - sprinting toward the flying ball.

"It hit about three feet in on the warning track and bounced off the wall," Muovich told me on Friday.

If it sounds like Muovich wants to steal White's thunder, his ensuing actions hardly give any evidence toward that decision. He grabbed the ball and took it to the Hoover coaches, figuring they'd want it as a souvenir.

Pretty cool, huh?

After getting emails from fans sitting in left field and texts from others close to the ball's landing spot, I talked to a videographer from a local television station. He went frame by frame and determined it hit the warning track, even creating a cloud of dirt from hitting the warning track. He had a view you couldn't get from television or a computer.

I couldn't tell, sitting about 400 feet away in the far left seat of Press Box A.

I'm certainly not here to rain on White's parade. Single or home run, the dramatics don't change as much as you might think. It wasn't a simple sacrifice fly, an error or line drive up the middle. He drove a ball deep to left field that resulted in the winning run in front of 3,000 or so fans.

White, per his personality, wasn't as emotional as you might think a player would be in that situation.

His quiet, soft-spoken demeanor didn't change after Friday either when he was kept busy.

"A lot of people (asked me if that was a home run)," White said after the state title game. "It really doesn't matter. I watched the news and it looked like it was over. We still won, that's all that matters."

On Saturday, White's single continued a rally from four runs down to help Hoover beat Fairmont Senior in the state title game.

All-in-all, he had a pretty good weekend.

Within eight seasons, he and his brother played prominent roles in their teams state championships. James White was the winning pitcher in Hoover's semifinal win in 2007 against, you guessed it, Independence.

Hunter and James are buddies, so a sibling rivalry - if there ever was one - doesn't exist. They have plenty to talk about as they grow older.

Nevertheless, the official ruling is that White hit a grand slam to give Herbert Hoover a 7-3 victory in the 2013 Class AA State Tournament semifinal baseball game on May 30, 2013 at Appalachian Power Park.

And, that's OK.

* * *

I HAVE HAD more people than I can count thanking me for a column I wrote about John Huxley - a close, personal friend of Charleston Catholic coaches, the team and families - who died on Wednesday night.

That's a thank you that you never want, because it's a column you never want to write.

I know it sounds weird, but somehow it doesn't seem to be a coincidence that the Irish won their first state title in eight tries the same week after "Hux" passed away.

"I was praying to John Huxley," Charleston Catholic Coach Bill Mehle said after the title game, a 9-8 victory over favored Magnolia. "John was one of our biggest baseball supporters over the years and just prayed his spirit be with us. This group of seniors, he was part of their extended family over the years while they grew up. I knew John was with us in spirit and we came through."

* * *

YOU HAVE TO feel for Fairmont Senior Coach Steve Naternicola.

Naternicola was in his 24th season guiding the Polar Bears and coaching in his seventh state championship and first as a Class AA program.

Despite Hoover playing in the 2012 Class A title game, Fairmont Senior came in as the favorite. Following an exhausting 10-inning game against Bridgeport and close friend Robert Shields on Thursday, the Polar Bears lost 7-5 to Hoover in the championship after holding a 5-1 lead into the sixth.

It was a difficult result to take, but Naternicola puts it in perspective for his team and the community in how he handles his players and the media.

It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.

That might be cheesy, but clichés are so often true.

Naternicola gets it in so many ways.

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at richstevens@dailymail.com or 304-348-4837.


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