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Witty’s walk-off double in 9th inning allows Hurricane to dethrone Bridgeport, 3-2

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It had been since 2013 since Bridgeport finished a baseball season without a state championship.

Thanks in large part to Damian Witty and Owen Gress, Hurricane brought an end to the Indians’ unprecedented run of success, which featured seven consecutive state titles between Class AA and Class AAA.

Witty drove in the game-winning run with a walk-off double in addition to several high-level defensive plays in right field, while Gress tossed six scoreless innings in relief to help the Redskins climb out of an early hole and score a 3-2 nine-inning win over the Tribe in a marathon of a Class AAA semifinal at Appalachian Power Park.

“It was guys fighting. It was really fun to watch,” Hurricane coach Brian Sutphin said. “That was a good game and the kids from both sides gave everything they had. Runs were at a premium and a lot of guys stepped up.”

In addition to exacting a measure of revenge after falling to the Tribe in last year’s Class AAA title game, No. 2 Hurricane (33-4) secured its spot in Saturday’s final against George Washington. The Mountain State Athletic Conference matchup will begin at approximately 4 p.m.

“We haven’t won anything yet,” Sutphin said. “We have to come out tomorrow and play a good GW team that’s playing good baseball right now. We’re looking forward to that competition.”

Witty’s double came with no outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and scored Brogan Brown from first base, who had led off with a walk against Bridgeport (34-6) relief pitcher Chris Harbert.

“I was looking for a fastball middle in and got it,” Witty said. “I got my barrel out there in time.

“I knew I hit it hard. I had no idea where it was going.”

(Postgame “Round of Sound”)

The No. 3 Indians got off to their desired start and produced all of their offense in the opening inning courtesy of Ben McDougal’s RBI triple and an Anthony Dixon sacrifice fly to right. Dixon’s sac fly could’ve easily been an extra-base hit were it not for a tremendous diving catch from Witty, who almost certainly saved at least one more run that inning.

“He played outstanding defense,” Bridgeport coach Robert Shields said of Witty.

The Redskins cut the deficit in half in their first at bat as Witty singled to shortstop to bring home Ethan Spolarich, who reached second base on the game’s only error and stole third base.

Gress took over on the mound in relief of starter Reece Sutphin to start the second inning, and the right-hander with a sidearm delivery worked around two walks that frame to keep his team within one run.

Bridgeport squandered a golden chance to add to its advantage in the third. McDougal led off with a double, and courtesy runner Michael Oliverio moved to third on Dixon’s single to center.

Harbert then sent a ground ball back to the mound, and a leaping Gress came up with it and fired to the plate, with catcher Caden Johnson applying the tag on Oliverio for the first out. Zach Rohirg then singled to left for the third hit of the frame, but a strong relay from left fielder Cameron Carney to third baseman Bryson Rigney and then Johnson led to Dixon being thrown out at the plate.

Phil Reed’s base-on-balls enabled Bridgeport to load the bases with two outs, but Drew Bailey was retired on a quality play from second baseman Quarrier Phillips, who had to move well to his left to prevent a hit.

“We knew we had to come with our ‘A’ game and we gave it everything we had,” Shields said. “We had the breaks early and then we kind of shot ourselves in the foot and they made some outstanding plays. What are you going to do?”

Hurricane pulled even in the third after Brown was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on Witty’s single to center.

(Greg Carey & Joe Brocato break down the thrilling Class AAA semifinals) 

Gress worked around consecutive walks to start the fourth to keep the game tied at 2, and though Hurricane struggled to hit McDougal, it had an opportunity to take its first lead in the sixth after loading the bases with two outs.

With McDougal out due to reaching the 110 pitch limit, Harbert induced a groundout to short off Witty’s bat to keep the game tied heading to the seventh.

“I got a little bit antsy and too much in my head,” Witty said. “I was ready to swing and get that base hit so we could go up and win it in the seventh.”

The Indians loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but Gress caught Reed looking a 3-2 pitch that also marked his final pitch after reaching the 110 pitch mark.

“He was an animal,” coach Sutphin said of Gress.

Rigney came on to pitch the eighth and retired the Tribe in order thanks to Witty’s alertness on a ball hit by Conner Buffington that got through the infield, but resulted in Witty firing to first from shallow right for the second out.

“Buffington hits a shot but it’s right at him and he has the sense to throw it to first base right off the bat,” Shields said. “That’s a big-time play and it hurt. We had opportunities, but sometimes the breaks don’t go your way.”

Harbert worked around a two-out walk to Caden Johnson to prevent the Redskins from scoring in the eighth.

The Tribe got a leadoff single from Cam Cole in the ninth and he moved to second on a wild pitch, but Cole never advanced further as Rigney recorded a pair of strikeouts and a groundout around Harbert’s second intentional walk of the game.

“Chris is such a competitor. It has nothing to do with the kid behind him,” coach Sutphin said. “The one at bat, it’s hard to do with two strikes, but he hit two hard balls and one down each line, and it’s like, ‘OK, he’s on it.’ With first base open, I hated to start over on a new count, but I thought our chances were better with a force out. When he came up at the end, I thought it was a no brainer. Up and down their lineup, there’s no easy outs.”

That set the stage of Witty’s game-winning knock, which was just inside the first base bag and bounced away from McDougal in right to give Brown enough time to score from first.

“The goal this season wasn’t to beat Bridgeport,” coach Sutphin said. “Obviously Bridgeport has been ultra successful and that run is crazy. We want a chance to be state champions and that group has come together to do everything we can to make that happen.”

Gress struck out eight, allowed four hits and did not issue a walk. Rigney picked up the win with two strikeouts over a pair of scoreless frames in relief.

McDougal struck out 12, walked three and surrendered three runs over 5 2/3 innings. Harbert allowed one run, walked five and struck out four over 2 1/3 innings, while suffering the loss.

McDougal and Dixon had two hits apiece to combine for half of the Tribe’s hit total.

“What a game,” Shields said. “I don’t want to be on the bad side of it, but I was on the bad side of it this time. You can’t keep winning year in and year out, but that group of guys, they’re champions, whether they’re in the record book or not for this one.”

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