CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Cabell Midland baseball coach Tracy Brumfield likes to think of this year’s version of the Knights as selfless.
Never was that more evident than Saturday in the Class AAA title game against Hedgesville at GoMart Ballpark.
No. 1 Cabell Midland took control of the contest with a nine-run fourth inning, a frame in which three consecutive bunt singles played a major role in turning the tide in the Knights’ favor as they gained the lead and held off a furious rally from the Eagles for an 11-8 victory.
“We told the kids you have to be able to get the bunts down in big situations. You have to be able to buy into it and get it down,” Brumfield said. “The way kids are today, they don’t want to bunt. They want to swing. But our kids in the lower part of the lineup put down great bunts. We had the squeeze on and it was great execution.”
The result allows Cabell Midland (30-10) to claim its second baseball championship on the 20-year anniversary of its initial title.
“It’s never easy, but it’s been a long time. This one’s ours,” Brumfield said.
Facing their first deficit at 3-2 they came to bat in the fourth, the Knights pulled even on a run-scoring single from Jack Eastone that marked the end of the outing for Hedgesville (28-9) starting pitcher Tanner Matthew.
He was replaced by Jaxson Ruest, who was immediately greeted by a bunt from No. 7 hitter Ben Fulks that led to a single and a throwing error that allowed Isaac Petitt to score.
Fulks was originally ruled out on the play, but after the umpires got together, they ruled Fulks was not tagged and he was awarded first base.
“I don’t really understand some of the semantics of what we were told there, but it comes down to did we hit well enough, pitch well enough and play good enough defense. We didn’t do it,” HHS head coach Eric Grove said. “This is one game in a season where we’ve had tremendous success.”
Bryce Alfrey followed with a bunt single that scored Eastone, and Hunter McSweeney made it three straight bunt singles to create a bases loaded situation for Landon Nida, who drew a base-on-balls that left Midland with a 6-3 lead.
“I was really just trying to put it down the third base line, because I saw the third baseman playing back,” McSweeney said. “I was trying to get the runners over and trying to get on.”
Later in the inning, Kenyon Collins drove in two with a single and Luke Samuel did likewise with a double, before Eastone added his second run-scoring single of the frame that left the Eagles trailing by eight.
“You get booed because for [bunting], but guess what? It doesn’t matter,” Brumfield said. “We won and bunting was a big part of that.“
However, with everything going against them, the No. 3 Eagles answered back in the fifth to make things interesting.
Aden McCormill replaced Eastone on the mound to start that inning, and Brett Pederson lined into a double play to create an early two out situation with nobody on.
But Landon Pence followed with a double, and after an error extended the inning, Chris French worked a walk to load the bases. Trenton Knieriem followed with his own walk to bring in a run, and after Gage Ganoe was hit by a pitch with the bags packed, the Eagles were to within 11-5 and Jared Nethercutt replaced McCormill.
It did little to slow Hedgesville’s momentum as Braylon Conner worked a walk to bring in the Eagles’ sixth run, and Noah Brown followed with a two-run single for a three-run deficit.
Nethercutt induced a ground ball to second off the bat of Ruest with two in scoring position that enabled Midland to keep its three-run lead.
“It’s hard when you get to this point, you’re staying so far away from home and the kids are tired from the weather and you wonder are we going to have a response,” Grove said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the fact we scored five runs and gave ourselves a chance. If this is the worst thing that happens in their life, then they’re going to have a good life.”
McSweeney took over on the mound to start the sixth and the Eagles managed only Quinn’s two-out single that inning over the last two frames. McSweeney struck out the first two batters of the seventh and got Conner to hit a fly ball to center for the game’s final out.
“The adrenaline was pumping, but it wasn’t very stressful,” McSweeney said. “I felt normal and it just felt like a normal game.”
Midland went in front 2-0 in the second after Eastone’s RBI double and a Fulks run-scoring single, though the Eagles scored two runs on consecutive Knights’ errors in the top of the third to draw even at 2.
Conner’s fourth-inning single scored Ganoe and allowed Hedgesville to lead for the first and only time.
Eastone picked up the win after allowing three unearned runs in four innings. McSweeney struck out a pair over two scoreless innings to record the save.
Eastone and Samuel had three hits apiece to combine for half of Midland’s 12 hits.
“We wanted to put the ball on the ground, run the bases and put pressure on them,” Brumfield said.
Brown and Ganoe led Hedgesville’s eight-hit attack with two each.
Matthew suffered the loss after allowing five runs in three innings. Ruest was charged with six runs in three innings.