CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Riverside advanced into Saturday’s Class AAA baseball state championship game with a come-from-behind 3-2 walkoff win over Wheeling Park on Friday from Appalachian Power Park.
Junior right fielder Trevor Smith provided the two-out, game-winning hit, a single under the glove of pitcher Michael Grove that scored Brandon Hancock from third.
“I was looking for a fastball, because that’s basically all (Grove) threw me all game,” Smith said. “I knew I just needed to get a bat on it.”
Smith’s hit erupted a Riverside-partisan crowd and led to a dogpile celebration atop the hero of the moment at first base.
“I was definitely at the very bottom,” Smith said. “It was a little rough under there. But it was the most amazing feeling I had in my whole life.”
Though Wheeling Park had first base open on the decisive at-bat, coach Mike McLeod opted to let Grove pitch to Smith, who came in batting .429.
“I felt like between the two, Michael should be better,” McLeod said. “It was late in the inning, so a fly ball, groundout or strikeout—any of those I felt like Michael could’ve gotten the best of him.”
The seventh-inning dramatics came after a flurry of action in the sixth where Riverside turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead without a hit. Smith started off the inning with a lead-off walk and was bunted over to second base.
After pitcher Cameron Norris reached on a Wheeling Park error and then stole second, the Warriors had runners on second and third with one out, down 1-0. A balk was then called on Wheeling Park pitcher Michael Grove, scoring Smith and advancing Norris to third.
First baseman Brady Wilkinson then supplied a sacrifice fly to left field that gave Riverside a 2-1 advantage heading into the final inning.
Riverside miscues, though, helped lead to a Wheeling Park rally in the top of the seventh as first baseman Chalmer Moffett struck out, but advanced to first on the wild pitch. Grove Calvert then reached for Wheeling Park on a sacrifice attempt in which no one covered second, buying time for Calvert to beat out the throw to first.
Wheeling Park’s Nathan Hardman’s two-out single scored pinch-runner Collin Hlad to tie it at 2-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh, where Grove fanned two before Riverside won it with three straight hits.
Hancock blooped a single inches inside the right-field line and Derrick Chestnut doubled to left-center.
The game was a pitching dual throughout as Grove struckout eight and surrendered six hits in 6 2/3 innings on the mound. Riverside’s Norris was slightly better on the day, going seven innings and giving up four hits, while striking out 10.
“I can’t even talk right now, I’m so excited. It’s awesome,” Norris said. “It was tough (staying mentally focused), but I’ve grown up a lot since the past year and we’ve grown up a lot as a team since last year—tough games like these are games that we expect to win.”
Wheeling Park sees its season come to an end after advancing to the state tournament for the first time since 1989.
“It was a wonderful season and our kids worked really hard,” said McLeod. “We thought we could get to the championship game, but it is what it is. It’s a game—they’re 16- to 17-year-old kids and they make mistakes. We’re going to work hard and we’ll be back here next year, it was a lot of fun.
“I told them, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will probably win,” McLeod continued. “We weren’t as sharp as we normally are, but I give (Norris) a lot of credit. Any guy that can keep us down has done a tremendous job, because we have a really nice team. You have to give him all the credit.”
Riverside advanced to face Hurricane on Saturday at 1 p.m. for its first Class AAA baseball state championship.
RADIO REPLAY: Listen to WVRC’s broadcast of Riverside’s 3-2 win over Wheeling Park.