CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After Braden Griffin labored through 106 pitches to put Man High in position for an upset, teammate Ryan Adkins needed only two pitches to finish it.
Adkins coaxed a game-ending double play after Griffin walked two batters in the seventh inning and the Hillbillies knocked off St. Marys 3-1 in the Class A semifinals Thursday night.
“It was nerve-racking,” admitted Adkins, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who can provide an encore Saturday by starting the championship game against Notre Dame.
Many observers felt St. Marys (29-3) would be playing for the crown, bolstered by an offense that piled up nearly 12 runs per game. But the Blue Devils managed only three hits against Griffin and failed to take capitalize on five walks.
“We left guys stranded in scoring position. When we needed a key hit some of our big sticks didn’t come through for us,” said St. Marys coach Ed Wilson, whose squad had scored fewer than seven runs only twice all season.
“You get down here in the state tournament and it’s not going to be quite as easy (to score runs).”
After enduring nine full-counts in a six-strikeout performance, Griffin (5-3) admitted he was “absolutely running out of gas” when he put the tying runs aboard in the final inning. But the junior left-hander was barely in the dugout when his reliever induced a 5-4-3 double play from St. Mary’s pitcher and leadoff hitter Robbie Harper.
“We knew (Adkins) would pound the strike zone and that’s what we needed,” said Man coach Larry Vance.
In the third-base coach’s box Wilson was stunned, having convinced himself St. Marys was about to draw even.
“I said ‘Well, we’re going to tie it up right here.’ But it was a tailor-made double play, so what are you going to do?”
St. Marys, making its first tournament appearance since 1990, couldn’t get to Griffin on the mound and couldn’t stop him at the plate. He went 3-for-3 with two doubles to deep left field—one of which scored Tyler Blair in the bottom of the first.
After Man went up 2-0 in the fifth on Blair’s two-out RBI single, St. Marys answered with its lone run. Jarrod Lough raced to third when his single skipped through the legs of the Man left fielder and eventually scored on Johnny Riggs’ groundout.
St. Marys’ Harper (9-3) entered with a 1.16 ERA and pitched well in the complete-game loss, though the senior’s two-out wild pitch in the sixth scored Noah Maynard to give Man a 3-1 cushion.
Harper allowed seven hits and three walks while fanning six.
“He has nothing to hang his head about because he pitched a heck of a game,” Wilson said.
Each team produced defensive gems.
Man’s Maynard lunged behind first base to snag Michael Stout’s smash before making a seated throw to Griffin covering the bag.
Then Stout repaid the favor by making a full-extension catch in right-center to rob Simpson of extra bases.
In the seventh, Man right fielder Baley Beckwith ranged into foul territory to record the first out on stumbling catch over the bullpen mound.
“Going over that mound and diving for it, that was a big out,” Vance said.
Mathew Houser had two hits for St. Marys, which last won the title in 1981.
Man posted consecutive runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010 but has never won a championship. The Hillbillies hope to break through against Notre Dame.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Vance said. “Hopefully we can be smiling here Saturday like we are right now.”
RADIO REPLAY: Listen to WVRC’s broadcast of Man’s win over St. Marys.