CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Because of his name alone, Hedgesville junior Lane DeLauter carries with him an expectation to perform at a high level.
DeLauter’s older brother, Chase DeLauter, enjoyed a standout career for the Eagles before going on to star at James Madison, which helped lead to him being the No. 16 pick in the 2022 Major League Baseball draft.
There’s plenty of talent throughout the family and the younger DeLauter showed as much Friday for the No. 3 Eagles in a Class AAA semifinal against No. 2 University. The right-handed junior pitched 6 2/3 innings and held a potent Hawks lineup to three hits and more importantly one run, while the Eagles produced all of their offense in the first inning of a 3-1 victory at GoMart Ballpark.
“His last four or five games, he’s been tremendous on the mound,” Eagles’ head coach Eric Grove said. “I feel so good for him because of the family name and because of the situation. He goes to every ballpark in America and it’s all about, ‘You’re not Chase.’ Well he did something today that means a lot to our community, himself and his family and I’m super proud of him. He needed a moment like this and he went and got it. That’s awesome.”
The result sends Hedgesville (28-8) to the Class AAA title game Saturday against top seed Cabell Midland.
Batting first as the visiting squad, Hedgesville jumped out to a three-run lead during a four-hit frame of University (25-12) starting pitcher Zach Harman.
The first three Eagles to bat reached base — Braylon Conner on a leadoff single, Noah Brown on a double and Jaxson Ruest after working a base-on-balls.
Conner scored the game’s first run on a wild pitch, and a single from Landon Pederson brought Brown home to make it 2-0. Connor Quinn followed with a run-scoring single that left the Hawks trailing 3-0, though from that point forward, Harman settled in and then some.
“This was the opposite script of how we’ve played the last 25 games,” Grove said. “Those three runs, I didn’t know if it was enough, but reversing trends is kind of a thing when you get in these crunch time games. Everybody is a little tighter and I thought this could be a high-scoring game if Lane didn’t have his best stuff, but he did.”
The Hawks got one back in their half of the first when Noah Braham worked a walk with two outs, stole second and scored on Wenkai Campbell’s sharp single.
Hedgesville’s Jaxson Ruest started an inning-ending double play in the third when Braham sent a ground ball his way, but the Hawks returned the favor in the fourth. Harman got Ruest to hit a tapper back to the mound that led to a double play and marked the second straight inning HHS left a runner at third base.
The most important of DeLauter’s eight strikeouts was perhaps the second out of the fourth, when he fanned Gabe Templeton for the second out with Campbell at third base. Gabe Jansen then worked a walk, but DeLauter induced a fly ball off Jett Walters’ bat to end the fourth with the Eagles still leading by two runs.
“DeLauter is a really solid pitcher and he was able to keep us in check to limit what we try to do offensively,” UHS head coach Brad Comport said.
Eagles’ right fielder Landon Pence made a tremendous catch in the sixth to rob Campbell of extra bases and start the inning with an out.
“Those guys made some big plays, too, when we did try to get some momentum, especially late,” Comport said. “That was a big play in right field was a really big play. If that goes our way, things could be a little different, but hats off to them.”
The Eagles benefited from more stellar defense in the seventh to help seal the outcome.
After Walters connected for a leadoff single, Josh Smolkin looked on his way to following with a base hit, only for Conner to come up with a diving stop and the throw to first for the first out. Conner began the game at shortstop but moved to second base after coming up hobbling while running the bases in the first inning.
“It was mainly because he was hurt, so maybe it was better lucky than good,” Grove said. “We’re going to have to evaluate him. He’s our spark plug and would be my candidate for player of the year on this team.”
DeLauter struck out Park Croyle prior to reaching his pitch limit, which allowed Ruest to take over on the mound. Ruest induced a fly ball to right from Templeton to record a save.
Quinn was 3-for-3 and Pence added two hits to lead Hedgesville’s eight-hit attack.
“With the [Eastern] Panhandle sometimes, if it’s not Jefferson, it’s, ‘well the other guys must’ve gotten lucky.’ I don’t think it’s really a chip. Our kids have played with this tenacity that is newfound for them,” Grove said. “It’s what wins games. You’re not always the most talented, but you have the most heart. These kids have a ton of heart. The talent has caught up and here we are.”
Harman gave a strong six-inning effort in defeat, limiting the Eagles to the three runs. He struck out six and walked three prior to Cody Thomas recording all three outs of the seventh inning.
“That’s what we expect out of Zach,” Comport said. “I could not be more of his performance today, especially settling in after that first inning. He was throwing strikes and they hit the ball hard. To see him throw up zeroes the rest of the way, was expected of him and we’re just so proud of his effort — not only in this game, but throughout the postseason.”