Kuhl, calm and collective: Winfield senior throws gem, lifts Generals to 3-0 win over Keyser in Class AA final

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Throughout the 2023 season, Winfield baseball coach Will Isaacs relied heavily on senior Dylan Kuhl for production and leadership.

So when Kuhl got off to a rocky start in Saturday’s Class AA title game against Keyser, there was no panic from the top seed Generals, nor their skipper.

Instead, they reverted to Kuhl living up to his last name, and after escaping a jam in the first inning, he found a way to wiggle out of trouble in the second despite the Golden Tornado loading the bases with no outs.

It proved pivotal and the Generals produced two third-inning runs to play from in front the rest of the way, securing their fourth state championship and first since 2002 with a 3-0 victory at GoMart Ballpark.

“He’s unquestionably our leader,” Isaacs said. “He sets the tone for toughness and he’s vocal in everything that he does. He was the guy we wanted on the mound today.”

Noah Broadwater led off with a single for KHS (21-7), and was at third following a Caden Youngblood one-out single. After Youngblood stole Keyser’s second base that inning, Kuhl induced a pop out off the bat of Logan Rotruck before he caught Patrick Liller looking for his first of seven strikeouts.

The Golden Tornado had an even bigger threat in the second when Josh Shoemaker led off with a double, Chase Davis followed with a walk and Hunter Hart singled to pack the bags.

But Kuhl never wavered as he struck out Bubba Bean for the first out. Broadwater then sent a fly ball relatively deep to center, but a base running blunder prevented Keyser from producing a sacrifice fly. 

Healy struck out for the final out of the inning. That marked the third of 12 straight batters Kuhl would retire. 

“Coach always tells us we’re going to face adversity sometime during a baseball game and I faced it early,” Kuhl said. “I had to throw strikes and let my teammates make the plays for me if they put the ball in play.

“The first two innings, my curve ball was struggling, but in the third inning, it came around and was the best it’s ever been. It worked the rest of the game.”

WHS moved in front in the home half of the third. Karson Frye’s one-out triple was followed by a Quincy Miller sacrifice bunt, and Miller brought in Frye and ended up reaching as the Golden Tornado unsuccessfully tried for the out at the plate.

Preston Keiffer’s two-out run-scoring single allowed Winfield (30-9) to double its lead.

Bumgarner belted a two-out triple to right-center in the fourth that allowed Maddox Shafer to score the Generals’ third run.

“When we had opportunities, we didn’t capitalize and when they did, they capitalized,” Keyser head coach Scott Rohrbaugh said. “It was a good game. We left guys on base and couldn’t get the hits when we needed them today.”

Still, thanks to Broadwater’s strong pitching performance, Keyser was within striking distance throughout.

Youngblood led off the sixth with a triple, but KHS was again unable to capitalize. Instead, Kuhl got Rotruck on a ground ball back to the mound before Liller lined out to first base. After Shoemaker worked a walk, Davis hit a liner too short for the final out.

“My fastball and change up are what got me here. I’m not the guy who throws the hardest, but I love generating weak contact,” Kuhl said. “When my curve ball started to come around, I knew we were going to win this ballgame.”

Winfield left the bases loaded in the sixth, but it was inconsequential as Kuhl retired all three batters he faced in the seventh to seal the outcome.

Kuhl scattered five hits and walked a pair in his memorable outing.

“Dylan was able to locate three pitches and that’s what made him effective,” Isaacs said. “When he got in those jams, he wasn’t and the ball was out over the plate and they were drilling the ball. But once he was able to get all three pitches in or near the strike zone, it put them in swing mode and we had a real advantage then.”

Shafer and Bumgarner had two hits apiece.

“We knew it was going to be extremely difficult to win this game and we’re blessed and fortunate,” Isaacs said.

Broadwater struck out eight, walked one and limited the Generals to the three runs, two of which were earned, over six innings of seven-hit ball.

Youngblood had two of the five KHS hits.

“He mixed it up and kept us off balance,” Rohrabugh said of Kuhl. “We’d either hit a weak fly ball or pop up and his off speed was working well today.”

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