WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va. — After Williamstown positioned runners at second and third base while facing a one-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday against Tyler Consolidated, Yellowjackets’ coach Levi Maxwell elected to go with a pinch hitter in hopes of prolonging his team’s season.
Maxwell called on T.J. Thomas, and before the freshman stepped into the batter’s box, the coach wanted to have a word with Thomas to offer a reminder.
“Believe it or not at the beginning of the year, we told him, ‘you’re going to be in a big situation at some point this year where you’re going to have to step up and drive the ball,’” Maxwell said. “That’s what I came over and told him — ‘this is that situation we’ve talked about. You have to drive the ball here and try to get those runs in.’”
Thomas did just that and rose to the occasion by putting a charge into a fly ball to center field that had a chance to be caught, but fell in for a double. It scored courtesy runner Cooper Martin and Harbor Haught to send Williamstown to a 6-5 victory over the Silver Knights that clinched a Class A Region I, Section 2 championship.
“T.J. is a really relaxed guy and he normally has a lot of poise when he’s in the box, which is great for a freshman,” said Williamstown’s Leewood Molessa, who hit a home run and triple in the win. “Stepping into a situation like that, he has some juice, so it was good to see him catch a barrel and relax.”
The win moves Williamstown (24-4) into next week’s best-of-three Region I series against Madonna with a spot in the state tournament at stake. The Silver Knights saw their storied season, which included a victory over Williamstown in the Little Kanawha Conference title game, end at 23-9.
“Our kids battled all season long,” TCHS coach Rob Jones said. “I didn’t expect anything different against what everyone has as the No. 1 team in the state. I’d put our kids up against anybody and I told them before and after the game, I wouldn’t trade any of the 17 of them for anybody on anyone else’s roster.”
TCHS scored twice in the top of the seventh without recording a hit to turn a 4-3 deficit into a one-run lead. That inning featured three walks and a pair of hit batsman, though the Yellowjackets nearly won it without needing a walk-off.
With the bases loaded and one out, Tyler Consolidated’s Charles Brown lifted a fly ball to left field that was caught by Molessa for the second out. Owen Westbrook elected to tag up from third base, and he narrowly scored the tying run when the relay to the plate wasn’t handled clean. Ty Walton and Mason Nichols were then each hit by a pitch in succession, with the latter occurrence allowing Carson Gorby to touch the plate for the Silver Knights’ go-ahead run.
“Our kids are always going to battle back,” Jones said.
While Tyler Consolidated took the lead, it also left the bases loaded as WHS relief pitcher Parker Schramm retired Garrett Ammons on a bouncing ball back to the mound.
Walton issued a leadoff walk to Luke Ankrom in the home half of the seventh, and with the Silver Knights’ southpaw having surpassed 110 pitches during Ankrom’s plate appearance, that marked the end of Walton’s outing.
He was relieved by Brown, who surrendered a bunt single to Haught after he slipped while trying to field the ball. That sent Martin to second, and both runners advanced a base on Chase Barkley’s sacrifice bunt to set the stage for Thomas’ heroics.
“Any time we can get Walton out of the game and get an opportunity to swing it, that’s great, because Walton’s a stud and he’s one of the best pitchers in the state,” Maxwell said.
Were it not for what transpired in the bottom of the sixth, Walton almost certainly would’ve faced at least a few more batters in the seventh. Instead, with the Silver Knights leading 3-2 at the time, Walton retired the first two Yellowjackets he faced in the sixth, and then struck out No. 9 hitter Carson Hill for what would’ve been the final out of the inning were it not for a wild pitch that allowed Hill to reach.
That allowed Molessa to bat, and the UMBC signee took full advantage of his opportunity with a two-run home run to center that put WHS on top, 4-3.
“Carson Hill reached and I knew if I could barrel a ball, maybe I could hit one in the gap and we could tie it up, because he has some wheels,” Molessa said. “The kid threw a first pitch ball and I looked down at coach Maxwell and he legit gave the dinger sign. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but just looked to barrel a ball.”
Leewood Molessa’s 2-run home run in 6th inning that gave Williamstown a 4-3 lead at the time during its 6-5 victory against Tyler Consolidated. #wvprepbase pic.twitter.com/KhxdaHPv8u
— Greg Carey (@gcarey938) May 17, 2022
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the third when Molessa led off with a triple and scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch moments before Maxwell Molessa’s double.
Barkley tossed his fourth consecutive scoreless inning of the contest to keep the 1-0 lead intact, before the Silver Knights broke through in the fifth.
Weston Henderson, Westbrook and Gorby accounted for consecutive singles, the last of which allowed Tyler Consolidated to tie the game at 1. Jayden Helmick then drew a walk, and with the bags packed, Zade Billings’ bloop single scored courtesy runner Garon Broughman to give the Silver Knights their first lead. They doubled the advantage on Brown’s sacrifice fly, leaving TCHS with a 3-1 advantage.
Williamstown cut its deficit in half on Ty Ott’s single that scored Leewood Molessa in the home half of the fifth. However, with a prime opportunity to tie the contest or go back in front, Williamstown couldn’t score again despite loading the bases. Walton struck out Ankrom and got Haught to pop up to short to end the threat and keep Tyler Consolidated on top for the time being, 3-2.
“Ty threw last night and you hate to do that, but he’s the conference player of the year,” Jones said. “He wanted the ball. I’m not going to tell a kid no when they want the ball.”
Of Williamstown’s eight hits, Leewood Molessa, Maxwell Molessa and Ott — the team’s first three hitters — had two apiece.
Barkley was charged with five runs on six hits in six-plus innings. He struck out five and walked three, before giving way to Schramm, who walked one, did not allow a run and recorded three outs to pick up the victory.
“He didn’t have his best stuff,” Maxwell said of Barkley, “but he gave us a chance to win and pounded the zone.”
Walton allowed five runs on six hits in six-plus innings. He struck out seven and issued six base-on-balls. Brown was charged with the only other run and suffered the loss as a result.
Billings had two of his team’s six hits.