CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Man High finally won a baseball state championship game, and it only took four hours, 10 innings and five RBIs from the No. 9 hole hitter.
It also took a miraculous bounce on a seventh-inning wild pitch that foiled Notre Dame’s chance at a walkoff win.
But when the suspenseful Class A marathon game ended at last—with Notre Dame’s tying runs on board, of course—Man coach Larry Vance soaked up the 12-10 victory and was nearly moved to tears.
“I’m trying not to break down,” he said, “but how about that?”
How about Kenny Jo Adkins, the skinny sophomore planted at the bottom of the lineup, twice giving Man the lead with two-run doubles? The second one broke a 7-7 tie in the top of the 10th, sparking a five-run outburst that, thanks to yet another Irish rally, almost wasn’t enough.
Adkins went 3-for-5, knocking in five runs and potentially saving that many with two sliding catches in left field.
“I’ve never had a day like this before,” he said.
“I’ve never had a day like this before.” Man’s No. 9 hitter Kenny Jo Adkins after a five-RBI title game
And how about the crazy ending to the bottom of the seventh, when Notre Dame knotted the game and had the bases loaded when a two-out pitch skipped past catcher Cayce Mullins? Fortuitously for Mullins, the ball ricocheted back toward the plate, where he flipped to reliever Mikle Rowe just in time to tags out Jordan Miller racing home from third.
“With that wall, the ball could’ve kicked either way. We were very fortunate it bounced back to us,” said the Man catcher, who had four hits himself.
And how about the Hillbillies—winners of just six games last year–forging a chumps-to-champs turnaround?
“Last year, we didn’t have a good season, but now here we are,” Mullins said. “We still believed, though. We said from Day One this season that we’d be in Charleston.”
And once they made it to Charleston, the Hillbillies (21-11) only had to beat Class A’s top two teams: St. Marys (29-3) and Notre Dame (27-7).
Man collected 18 hits Saturday, including three from center fielder Braden Griffin, who caught Miller’s game-ending line drive after the Irish had rallied for three runs in the last of the 10th.
Said Griffin: “As soon as it came off the bat I knew were going home.”
John Keffer got the pitching win, allowing three runs in three innings of relief. Notre Dame’s Tyler McKinsey, solid for four innings, gave up four runs in the 10th and took the loss.
Notre Dame’s DJ Murphy had a monstrous game in defeat, going 5-for-6 with four RBIs. That included a two-run double in the final inning.
Murphy ripped a two-run single and Josh Baker lifted a sac-fly to as Notre Dame took a 3-1 lead in the third.
Man scored three times to grab a 4-3 lead in the top of the fourth—the go-ahead runs posted on a two-out double by Adkins.
“We knew we’d get here, and we brought Hillbilly Country.” — Man catcher Cayce Mullins
Anthony Belcastro doubled and scored on Morrison’s sac-fly to tie the game at 4-all in the bottom half.
Man chased Notre Dame starter Jordan Miller in a three-run fifth, going ahead 7-4 on Rowe’s RBI single and Noah Maynard’s double that skipped past diving right fielder Chad Morrison.
Belcastro’s two-run, sixth-inning single greeted Man reliever Rowe and cut the deficit to 7-6. When Belcastro was stranded at third, it seemed the game might have used up its last bit of drama.
Yet the game stretched on, matching the longest West Virginia state championship game on record.
“My head was spinning the whole time,” said Griffin, who cried as he hugged coaches and fans who flowed onto the infield.
Mullins squatted nearby, still sporting his shin guards and looking drained but satisfied.
“We knew we’d get here,” he said, “and we brought Hillbilly Country.”