NITRO, W.Va. -- Austen Toler drove in Point Pleasant's fifth and sixth runs Thursday evening at Nitro, then took the mound to make them stand up.Toler pitched seven mostly solid innings in the Big Blacks' 6-4 win over the Wildcats, scattering seven hits and avoiding the big innings. He finished what he started despite five walks and a five-error leak in his team's defense.At the plate, he went 3 for 4 with RBI singles in the second and fourth innings."He's our main guy. He's the one we go to," said Point coach Jamie Higginbotham. "I've got four pitchers; all of our pitchers are underclassmen."
The Big Blacks took the upper hand early, piling up a 5-1 lead after two innings. The first run came on an error during Tylun Campbell's stolen base; the second came on an Evan Potter sacrifice fly.In the second inning, the Big Blacks scored three times and it could have been a lot more. After loading the bases, Nitro starter Kip Brewer bobbled a bouncer hit right to him and never got the handle. Alex Sommerville knocked in a run with a fielder's choice and Toler singled to make it 5-1, but Josh Hudson's bunt into a double play prevented a huge inning.By that point, each team suffered an injury. Campbell, one of Point's few seniors, jammed his foot with that steal of second, while Brewer was hurt in the first inning while a runner. While sliding back into first during a pickoff attempt, the ball hit him."About the third pickoff, the ball hit him in the kidney," said Nitro assistant coach Drew McClanahan. "Got a lot of tightness and started to feel bad. A doctor was here and there were doctor's orders to send him home."After Brewer exited, Nitro coach Steve Pritchard gambled and inserted Eric Keller, a senior who hadn't pitched since his freshman year. Keller gave up eight hits but only one run, in the fourth on Toler's second RBI single.Nitro (14-8) had chances, thanks to five Point errors in the final four innings. Toler started the error barrage himself in the fourth, throwing wildly on a pickoff of Matt Harrison. Jacob Bradley singled in Harrison to make it 6-3.In the sixth, the Wildcats pulled off a double steal of second and third, and Evan Eich came home on a scoring error to make it 6-4. Point (14-9) survived a dropped ball in left field without another run, thanks to Toler striking out the side.In the bottom of the seventh, a fielding error on a slow roller to second helped Nitro put runners on first and second with one out. But cleanup hitter Dylan Slack lined into a double play, with Solomon Shamblin doubled up at second to end of the game.Shamblin will see better days on the basepaths. In the first, he was tossed out at the plate by right fielder Jacob Gardner, with second baseman Campbell handling the relay. In the fifth, he was thrown out trying to score on a wild pitch."One of them [the wild pitch] was on us," McClanahan said. "The other two were bad base-running mistakes we'll get fixed, we'll overcome. Credit [Point] for making tough plays - you get a passed ball and you get the ball back to the pitcher [for the tag], that's a play you often see the ball dropped, the ball overthrown. They executed on it."Both teams have difficult assignments ahead. Nitro travels to Buckhannon-Upshur this weekend, then proceeds to the Eastern Panhandle to play Martinsburg and Washington.
The Big Blacks face six games next week, including heavy-hitting Herbert Hoover, Huntington, Hurricane and cross-river rival Gallia Academy.But the road win Thursday regenerates confidence."We won 10 in a row, we lost three in a row and things weren't going well," Higginbotham said. "We weren't hitting the ball, and we had a day off [Wednesday] and got some practice in, which helped us."Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.