Resurgent bats help Concord cruise to WVC baseball championship
BECKLEY, W.Va. -- Pitching got West Virginia State and Concord into Saturday's West Virginia Conference baseball title game, but the Mountain Lion bats are what knocked out the Yellow Jackets.
Concord battered five West Virginia State pitchers to the tune of 14 hits, scored in six of eight innings and cruised to an 11-4 win in the league's final championship game, marking Concord's fifth baseball title in school history.
Both the Mountain Lions and Yellow Jackets had allowed just five runs each over their first three games of the tournament, riding pitching and timely hitting all the way to the championship game.
But on Saturday, Concord broke out on offense, and it was something Mountain Lions coach Andrew Wright had been anticipating.
"I've been waiting on that to happen this weekend," Wright said. "We're not used to winning games like that, and that's something we tried to focus on down the stretch, making sure we could win close games. Then to get here and have our offense work the way it has all year was comforting."
That support seemed to comfort Concord reliever Chris Baker, who tossed the final 41/3 innings without yielding a run as the Mountain Lions offense continued to roll.
But it all began with a lightning-fast start that saw Concord strike for five runs in the first two innings, chasing State starter Mike McClain after 12/3 innings and getting into a bullpen that couldn't slow down the Mountain Lions' momentum.
"We kind of wanted to get a feel of the game, and the first thing you know the feeling wasn't good," State coach Cal Bailey said. "They jumped on us early, and two or three years ago they did the same thing to our starter. We needed to come out with a little more urgency. They understood what was going on. I don't think we were fully expecting that."
Down 6-1, State was on the verge of recovering in a big way in the top of the fifth inning when Eric Craft, Cody Smith and Josh Kiser all reached to load the bases with none out.
Craft scored on Billy Smith's fielder's choice grounder to short (Cody Smith was retired at third) to cut the deficit to 6-2. After Kiser advanced to third on a wild pitch, he scored on Andrew Pickering's sacrifice fly. Tyler Payne then reached on a walk, prompting Wright to pull starting pitcher Devin Smith in favor of Baker.
Jack Hudson greeted Baker with an RBI double to cut the Concord lead to 6-4 and put runners on second and third base for Garrett Kiser, who represented the go-ahead run. Garrett Kiser crushed a pitch deep into the gap in right-center that looked like it might have gone out of the ballpark, but the strong yet fickle winds of Linda K. Epling Stadium turned it into a routine fly and ended the rally.
Despite getting a few more hits, State never really threatened again.
"Once we got to [Devin] Smith they brought Baker in and we tapped him around a bit but he settled down," Bailey said. "That was a combination of his stuff and us trying to do too much, trying to hit five-run home runs and that sort of thing."
Concord (36-18) swung the momentum back in its favor with two runs in the bottom of the fifth after Bret Blevins, Jerrod Groves and T.J. Brockway, the Mountain Lions' 7-8-9 hitters, reached base on two walks sandwiched around a hit-by-pitch. Highlighting the kind of day it was, each of them fell behind in the count and each had two strikes on them when they reached.
Mountain Lions leadoff man Andrew Seigel delivered a two-run seeing-eye single that pushed Concord's lead back to 8-4. The freshman went 3 for 4 with a double, three runs scored and three RBIs.
"The whole postseason we've been good at banging out hits, especially with two outs," Seigel said. "We put guys on base and we were able to score runs when we needed them."
Concord will enter the NCAA Division II regional tournament having won 18 of its last 21 games. Seton Hill is also expected to receive an at-large invitation.
"I'm proud of our guys," Wright said. "This is about the people I have around me and I'm more happy for them and for what they've gone through to be a part of this program and put themselves in this position. I'm very happy and very honored to be the head coach of this group."
Despite falling a step short, State made a nice turnaround from a 22-27 campaign last season and gave Bailey hope for the future.
"We had a terrible year last year, in fact we were picked fifth in our division," Bailey said. "We re-established ourselves, got respect again, and we're looking forward to next year now."
The WVC will disband after this school year, with most WVC teams reconvening in the new Mountain East Conference. Bailey, who was shooting for his 18th WVC title, is sorry to see the conference fall by the wayside.
"Like I've said before, I didn't vote to get out of the conference, nor was I asked," Bailey said. "My preference would be to be in the conference, make it all West Virginia like it used to be, and I think the rivalries would establish themselves a little bit better. I'm not convinced it was the right move but that's the move we're in and that's what we'll live with."
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/Rpritt.