South bound for state tourney

PARKERSBURG – Clay Walters just wanted to make sure he touched first base as the mob of teammates approached.

The lead-off hitter for Parkersburg South delivered the game-winning hit with the bases loaded and nobody out in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the Patriots past Morgantown 8-7 in a Class AAA, Region I final Thursday at Hank Greenburg Field.

South’s 11th straight victory puts the Patriots in the state tournament, which runs May 30-June 1 at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston. It will be the first state tournament appearance for South (26-9) since 1987. The Patriots are scheduled to played the region II champion at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 31.

“I don’t know exactly how this feels, but I’ll know later,” South coach Matt Null said. “Morgantown is one of the best hitting baseball clubs we’ve seen in that last couple of years,. We limited them to seven runs and that was a good job.”

South nearly had this one wrapped up in the top of the seventh inning, leading 4-3 with one out. With runners at first and third, Morgantown’s Nick Colasante hit a sacrifice fly tie the game at 4. Following a walk to Shane Commodore and a passed ball, the stage was set for Albie Eddy, who nearly took the head off South pitcher A.J. Easter as the ball sailed into center field for a two-run single.

Eddy eventually scored on a wild pitch to extend the Mohigans’ lead to 7-4.

Facing a similar story in their 5-4 loss to Morgantown in the regular season, the Patriots took advantage of wildness by the Morgantown pitchers in the home half of the seventh inning as the first three batters drew walks.

Braxton Johnson hit into a fielder’s choice to cut the deficit to 7-5. One out later, South inched closer when Jordan Braniff provided an RBI base hit.

Runners now stood at first and second with Tyler Berry at the plate. Berry fell behind in the count 0-2 then fouled off a couple of pitches offered by Eddy in relief. Eddy missed for a ball on the fifth pitch to Berry, but on the very next pitch the junior stroked a solid single over the second baseman’s head and Johnson beat the right fielder’s throw to home in plenty of time. Tie ballgame.

“Tyler has the experience to do it,” Null said. “In the Hurricane Tournament, same scenario. He hit a gap shot, we score to up against No. 1 Hurricane. And he comes through again.

“We talk about it frequently, if you want to be a big player you make big plays. And he wants to be a big player.”

Jacob Braniff, the third pitcher used by coach Null, allowed two walks in the eighth inning. But the senior worked out of a messy situation thanks to a pickoff of a runner trying to advance to third base.

With the 7-7 tie still intact, the South offense went to work. Brad Brubaker led off with a walk, and both Wes Mitchem and Jacob Wilcox reached safely on bunt singles.

Now the bases were loaded for Walters. On the second pitch he saw, he laced a single past the third baseman and Brubaker trotted home for the game-winner.

In the celebration, coach Null didn’t know what direction to take from his third base coaches’ box.

“I was just running all over the place,” Null said. “All I know is we’re moving on – we’ll take a day or two off but then go back to work. We’re not done yet. We want to win it all.”