CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston Catholic had just seen its two-run lead turned into a one-run deficit when Wahama scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to gain its first advantage at 5-4 in Saturday’s Class A title game at Appalachian Power Park.
The Irish were then down to their final out after White Falcons’ starting pitcher Aaron Henry retired the first two Irish batters of the seventh inning. With Henry at 110 pitches following the second out, he was forced to come out of the game, and it gave Charleston Catholic new life.
The Irish took full advantage, getting three straight singles to tie it at 5, then a fourth on Josef Brammer’s bunt for a one-run lead that starting pitcher Gannon Morris made hold up by finishing off his complete game and sealing the 6-5 victory that gives the Irish their third state championship and first since 2017.
“This is a rebuilding year for us,” first-year Irish head coach Will Bobinger said. “We have two starting freshmen and five starting sophomores most of the year. As a result of that, we got our butts hit pretty well early in the season. It was a matter of continuing to improve, focusing on the postseason and getting ready for this opportunity right here.”
The seventh inning began with Henry retiring No. 3 hitter Jonah DiCocco on a ground ball to shortstop, before Michael Ferrell sent a fly ball to left that marked the second out and final pitch of Henry’s quality outing.
Left-hander Bryce Zuspan came on in relief and Morris singled just beyond the outstretched arms of second baseman Nathan Manuel to prolong the game. Jeff Reynolds, who nearly accounted for the game’s final out on a pop up in foul territory, extended it with a sharp single that moved Morris to second, and Hayden Carriger followed with a single to left that scored Morris and knotted the contest at 5.
(Postgame “Round of Sound”)
“We knew who was coming in, because we’d faced them twice before and he came on in relief both times,” Bobinger said. “We were looking and saying they’re going to bring in No. 3 [Zuspan]. He’s a left-hander and has a nice curve ball, but he keeps the ball right there where we can get it. so we didn’t try to do too much with it. we just hit some line drives and got some key base hits to keep it alive.”
Tyler Brown was then hit by a pitch to load the bases, setting the stage for Brammer, the No. 9 hitter. Brammer elected to lay down a bunt and although he popped it up, Wahama catcher Ethyn Barnitz couldn’t come up with a diving catch, allowing Reynolds to score the go-ahead run.
“We’ve had mixed success with that,” Bobinger said. “As I’ve said all year, the bunt game is one of our key items and what we try to do is put pressure on the defense. You saw it on that play where they had an opportunity to catch it, but get a little too anxious and went after it. We take advantage of those type of things.”
Zuspan struck out Luke Blaydes to prevent further damage and No. 2 Wahama (25-8) had one final at bat to pull even or score a walk-off win. Morris retired the first two White Falcon batters in the seventh, before Manuel’s double to right extended the contest. Manuel eventually moved to third, but Barnitz hit a ground ball that DiCocco played perfectly at shortstop to record the final out and set off a frenzied celebration for the Irish, who finished 18-19.
“It stings and it hurts,” Wahama coach Billy Zuspan said. “These guys have worked so hard all season long. Their hearts are broken, but like I told them, ‘in time they’ll be proud of what they’ve done this season and where they finished at.’ We get two outs and brought Bryce in. He worked several two-strike counts and they got a couple bloopers over the infield, a foul ball just beyond the reach of our first baseman’s glove and that’s the nature of baseball sometimes. The ball doesn’t bounce your way and you don’t get a break.”
The No. 4 Irish wouldn’t have needed their seventh-inning heroics were it not for Wahama providing some of its own in the sixth.
Trailing 4-2, Wahama cut its deficit in half when Barnitz doubled to left to bring home Hayden Lloyd.
After Logan Roach was intentionally walked, Ethan Gray singled to load the bases.
Henry, the cleanup batter, then stepped to the plate and quickly fell behind 0-2, but he was hit by the third pitch of the at bat, allowing Barnitz to score the tying run.
Trey Ohlinger followed with a sacrifice fly to right that brought home Roach and gave Wahama its first lead at 5-4.
“I wasn’t phased,” Morris said. “We’re a very gritty team, so I knew we could make a comeback.”
The two teams combined to strand five baserunners in the opening inning without scoring, with the White Falcons leaving the bags packed when Morris induced a ground ball fielder’s choice from Zack Fields to escape unscathed.
Brammer’s two-out single in the second scored Reynolds to give the Irish a 1-0 lead, and the advantage grew when they scored three runs in the third. All of that damage was done after Henry retired the first two batters of the inning as the Irish put together four straight hits, including Reynolds’ two-run double and Carriger’s RBI single, allowing them to up the advantage to 4-0.
“This was a blueprint from [former Charleston Catholic head coach] Bill Mehle’s textbook of how to get a team ready,” Bobinger said, “and focusing on getting better throughout the year, trying to be ready for the postseason when we could make some nice waves.”
Wahama got on the scoreboard in the home half of the third when its first four batters of the inning reached, the last of which was Ohlinger’s two-run single.
Charleston Catholic’s 4-2 lead was intact through the fourth and fifth innings, before the White Falcons went ahead for the first time.
Morris logged a complete game over 106 pitches, allowing five runs on 10 hits. He walked four and struck out one in the win.
“I’d be lying if I said that I thought we’d make it to the state championship game,” Morris said. “I even told my guys, ‘the attitude all week is we have no reason to be here.’ We just grind and the two out hitting is so key. Hats off to my teammates.”
Reynolds finished 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and RBIs to go with three runs.
Carriger and Brammer added two hits and two RBIs apiece, while Ferrell and Morris were each 2-for-4 with a run.
Henry struck out 10 and walked one, while surrendering four runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. Zuspan took the loss after allowing a pair of runs on four hits while recording one out.
Ohlinger drove in three runs, Gray had three hits and Roach was 2-for-2 with a pair of runs in the setback.
“We have some great seniors and we’re going to miss them,” coach Zuspman said. “I’m so glad they got to end their season here. We also have a good nucleus coming back and this will be a little bit of motviation and hunger to really do what they can to get back here.”
Class A all-tournament team
Alex Miller, Moorefield
Parker Schramm, Williamstown
Trey Ohlinger, Wahama
Michael Ferrell, Charleston Catholic
Zack Fields, Wahama
Gannon Morris, Charleston Catholic
Logan Roach, Wahama
Jeff Reynolds, Charleston Catholic
Jonah DiCocco, Charleston Catholic
Aaron Henry, Wahama