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Viani goes the distance in 2-0 victory against East Fairmont, lifts Polar Bears to sectional championship

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Samuel Viani missed all of last baseball season due to a major injury to his left knee suffered while playing basketball.

Having returned to the diamond as a senior, Viani had no intention of allowing Fairmont Senior’s season to end prematurely when the Polar Bears welcomed crosstown rival East Fairmont to Mary Lou Retton Park for a winner-take-all matchup in Class AA Region I, Section 1.

The right-hander proved as much Tuesday by throwing a complete game shutout in which he limited the Bees to four hits and lifted the Polar Bears to a 2-0 victory.

“He was focused. He was hurt last year and didn’t get to play, but he was not going to end his senior year here,” Fairmont Senior coach Dave Ricer said. “He plans on ending it somewhere else.”

With the result, Fairmont Senior (21-6) advances to take on Frankfort next week in a best-of-three Region I series with a state tournament spot at stake.

One day after the Bees prolonged the sectional and forced the decisive matchup with a 5-4 win over the Polar Bears, East Fairmont (19-10) threatened to take an early lead against Viani.

Half of the Bees’ four hits came in the opening frame, including consecutive one-out singles from Nate Whiteman and Danny Raddish. With runners at the corners, Viani struck out cleanup hitter Brody Bledsoe and Ian Graffius to escape the threat.

By the time Viani came back out to the mound, he had a lead with which to work with.

Cam Peschl led off the home half of the first with an infield single, advanced to third on separate EFHS errors — the Bees’ only defensive miscues of the matchup — and scored when Viani helped his cause with a sacrifice fly to right.

“It was really good to get up early,” Viani said. “Whenever we score in the first inning, most times we win the game, but last time we played them, we scored early and then lost. We got our get back.”

Yet Viani’s mentality hardly changed while pitching with the advantage, particularly 24 hours after the Polar Bears led 2-0 through one inning and fell short.

He worked around Case Linn’s one-out single in the second and the Polar Bears scored what proved to be the game’s final run when they came to bat that inning.

The frame began with Logan Canfield’s single to center and he moved into scoring position when Hayden Jones followed by drawing a base-on-balls.

With runners at the corners and two outs, Peschl came through with a pivotal single to center, allowing Canfield to cross the plate for a 2-0 advantage.

FSHS had a chance to add to its lead that inning with two in scoring position, but Bees’ pitcher Tristan Boone struck out Viani to prevent further damage.

“We couldn’t get enough going. Boone threw a heck of a game and we needed to get some run support and just couldn’t string hits together,” Bees’ coach Joe Price said. “The name of the game is you get guys on, get them over and get them in and we just didn’t do it today. Hats off to Sam. He threw a nice game.“

The only baserunner either team mustered over the third and fourth innings was Polar Bears’ catcher Ethan Miller, who drew a two-out walk in the fourth.

Boone worked a two-out walk in the fifth for the Bees’ first baserunner since the second, but Viani followed by inducing an inning-ending fly ball to right off the bat of leadoff hitter Owen Music.

“I trusted my defense better throughout the game,” Viani said. “Once I saw them making a lot of plays, I felt it was better to let my defense make plays instead of trying to strike everyone out.”

East Fairmont mustered a baserunner in both the sixth and seventh innings, though neither advanced beyond first base. Raddish reached on Fairmont Senior’s only error in the sixth and River McClain singled to right with two outs in the seventh, before Viani retired Boone on a ground ball to second for the final out.

“I told them, things are going to happen and don’t let the wheels fall off,” Ricer said. “Expect them, deal with them and move on. We kept our focus a little bit better tonight.”

Viani struck out three and walked one, working effectively around the plate throughout.

“My sophomore year, I was doing the same thing I’m doing now, but I’m doing it a lot better now. It’s kind of just getting back into my own,” Viani said.

Peschl had two of his team’s six hits and was the only player with more than one.

Boone had a strong showing in defeat with four strikeouts and two walks over six innings.

“He threw a heck of a game,” Price said, “and kept us right there in it.”

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