CHARLESTON, W.Va. – If the opening game was any indication, fans are in for a wild and exhausting weekend at the West Virginia baseball state tournament.
Fairmont Senior scored three runs in the 10th inning and outlasted Bridgeport 9-6 in a drama-filled Class AA semifinal at Appalachian Power Park.
Pinch-runner Austin Kuhn scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch, Jayce Riley’s RBI double provided some insurance and Bailey Mohr added a run-scoring bloop single as Fairmont (28-6) finally put away Bridgeport (30-7).
The Polar Bears appeared to have the win sewn up in the ninth when Fletcher DeVaul doubled off the left-field wall to drive in two go-ahead runs for a 6-4 edge.
But the back-and-forth game continued when Bridgeport rallied in clutch fashion in the bottom of the ninth. First came Logan Zirkle’s sac-fly that scored Brett Hathaway, and then Greg Smith’s RBI single into the right-field corner deadlocked the game again, scoring Hunter Mann who narrowly avoided a sweep tag at the plate.
“At that point, I’m thinking ‘Oh no, is this going to be like the last couple years?’” said Fairmont coach Steve Naternicola, whose team has been a frequent visitor to the state tournament without ever winning it.
“But our kids did a great job of battling.”
DeVaul (7-2), who moved from shortstop to the mound after Bridgeport tied the game at 6-all in the ninth, earned the win.
“I told coach I wanted to throw to seal the deal,” he said.
Tyler Skidmore sustained the loss for the Indians, allowing six runs — four earned — in 4 1/3 innings of relief.
The Indians’ right-hander surrendered a leadoff single in the 10th to Johnny Kesling, who gave way to Kuhn on the base paths. Ryder Skarzinski followed with a double to left that gave Fairmont runners at second and third with none out. Kuhn raced home when Skidmore’s pitch bounced away from catcher A.C. Caldera.
Fairmont led 2-0 in the third until Bridgeport’s Greg Smith tied it with a two-run triple. Smith was out at the plate trying to stretch it into an inside-the-park homer, but he pulled off the rare feat in the fifth, racing around the bases to put the Indians up 4-3 after his sinking liner skipped to the centerfield fence.
“That inside-the-park was the best feeling ever, but it doesn’t feel good now because we didn’t get the W,” Smith said.
Bridgeport still held the one-run lead in the seventh, but Fairmont scored an unearned run to force extra innings. Nicholas Davisson reached on infield error, was bunted to second and then wild-pitched to third by Skidmore. That allowed Brett Hathaway’s ground out to square the game at 4-all.
Kesling’s RBI single gave Fairmont a 1-0 lead in the first against Troy Andersen, making his first start of the season for Bridgeport after spending most of his time catching.
“Troy’s always been a good pitcher,” said Shields in explaining his surprise starter. “We just played so many ballgames this year it was hard to rest his arm.”
Austin Norman launched a two-out triple in the third inning to make it 2-0, and he tripled home another run with two outs to put Fairmont up 3-2 in the fifth.
But thanks to Smith’s bases-circling whirlwind, Andersen left after five innings in position to win. He allowed three runs on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts.
Fairmont starter Matt Robbins was touched for seven hits and four runs in 4 2/3 innings, striking out five. Andrew Strand’s four-inning relief stint yielded two runs on four hits and three walks, before DeVaul closed out the final 1 1/3. He surrendered a walk and a single but ended the game on a strikeout.
“We went through all three of their best pitchers, and I thought our kids adjusted and had some good at-bats,” Shields said. “Nothing to be ashamed of. I’m so proud of these kids. They showed why they won 30 games today.”
Now paired against Herbert Hoover on Saturday morning, Fairmont will be in the state final for the sixth time since 2003. The previous five trips came in Class AAA and all were losses.