Prep baseball: Warriors capitalize on error in extra-innings victory over Black Eagles
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Though tense at times, the Riverside baseball team played with fun, and that's been the theme for the Warriors who advanced to their second consecutive Class AAA Region 3 championship.
Riverside needed extra innings and a bit of good fortune to win at South Charleston, 4-1, in eight innings on Tuesday night. With the win, Riverside advances to play at Beckley (19-9) at 5 p.m. today for the regional championship.
Through the postseason, Riverside has played well, but the key to that success has been a "fun" attitude, Coach Chris Hawkins said.
"You see I got 'FUN' written on my hat," Hawkins said as he pointed to the brim of his cap. "We took a Sharpie and we wrote it on all the kids' hats and we told them that, before the playoffs started that there wouldn't be no blow-outs. They were all going to be nail-biters, they were all going to be tough."
Throughout the hotly contested regional semifinal, Hawkins said he reiterated the message.
"I just kept reminding them throughout the game, 'Hey, look at your hat,' " he said. "'Remember what we have written on our hat. The team that wants to have the most fun is going to win this game,' and just getting them to realize these situations aren't pressure situations, they're not situations where you to look fail. They're situations where you look to succeed and have fun."
Riverside (13-15) and South Charleston (16-14) entered extra innings tied 1-1. Only one team finished the game with a fun feeling, though.
Warriors lead-off hitter Derik Chestnut started the eighth inning with a single. Next, Brandon Hancock laid down a bunt that bounced back to SC starting pitcher Jarod Jobst. Instead of throwing to first, Jobst opted to throw to second for the force out, but an errant throw allowed the runners to reach first and second safely.
A sacrifice bunt by Tyler Hall advanced the runners to second and third before a wild pitch allowed Chestnut to score, giving Riverside a 2-1 advantage. Aaron Halstead and Trevor Rumberg later followed with RBI hits that provided a comfortable cushion at 4-1.
Hall retired the Black Eagles in the bottom of the eighth inning to cement the win.
The execution of a sacrifice bunt play proved crucial for both teams. As Riverside benefited from South Charleston's miscue in the eighth, the Warriors executed the same play to perfection in the bottom of the seventh inning to thwart a Black Eagles threat.
"In this atmosphere, you've got to execute small ball," Hawkins said.
Black Eagles hitter Jacob Marler started the bottom of the seventh with a single to left field as all signs pointed SC could manufacture a possible walk-off win. The tide turned quickly, though. With Marler at first, the next hitter laid down a sacrifice bunt. Hall fielded the bunt, turned and fired to Chestnut for the force out at second base. Chestnut, then, pivoted and threw to first base to complete the double play.
The play was especially disappointing for the Black Eagles, who failed to score on an even bigger potential threat in the sixth. With one out and runners on second and third, Hall struck out the next two SC hitters to escape the inning.
"They made a play on a bunt that turned into a double play and the next inning, we didn't make it," SC Coach Kenny Samms said. "I'll go back to the bottom of the sixth. We get guys on second and third and one out, fourth and fifth hitter, and we don't (execute)."
While a three-run outburst proved the difference in the eighth, both teams' pitchers contributed solid complete-game performances on the mound. Hall struck out seven, with no walks, as he allowed one run on six hits. Meanwhile, Jobst struck out eight, walking one.
As Riverside celebrated the victory, Hall, a senior, said it felt great to be part of program history, reaching back-to-back regional championships.
"It means everything," he said of the win. "I feel like nobody at Riverside's ever done it before and to be the team that's done it two years in a row feels great."
With solid play and a fun mindset, the Warriors will look to continue their season despite a record that sits below .500.
"I told them all season long, 'Hey, don't look at the record,' " Hawkins said. "'Who cares? We know how good we are. We know the work we put in. We'll get it right by playoff time.' "