St. Albans' Phoenix Shrewsbury dives back to second base on a pickoff throw to Nitro's Evan Eich from pitcher Matt Harrison.
NITRO, W.Va. -- It's been seven years since St. Albans won its sectional, but the Red Dragons weren't going to celebrate too much after Wednesday's 4-1 victory at Nitro in the Class AAA Region 4 Section 2 opener.They know there's plenty of work still to be done.Dustin Turley went the distance on a five-hitter and also rapped out three hits with two RBIs to lead SA to its 20th win. He struck out four, walked one and allowed the Wildcats to get only three runners into scoring position and also contributed two putouts and two assists on defense."I'm feeling amazing right now,'' Turley said. "We know we've just got to play hard, believe in each other and put the ball in play and make the plays were supposed to make.''
The dynamic in this sectional - long one of the best in the state - took a turn for the interesting this year when traditional power Logan joined to make it a three-team battle. Tonight, SA (20-9) hosts the Wildcats (17-8), the co-No. 10 team in the Gazette's state ratings, at 6:30.Nitro (19-11), which has not only won its two-team sectional against cross-river rival SA six straight years but has gone on to qualify for the state tournament at Power Park each time, now finds itself on the brink of elimination with a game at Logan on Friday."It really doesn't matter,'' St. Albans coach Rick Whitman said about the recent history of the sectional. "Everything that's happened in the past is in the past and has nothing to do with right now."You've got to win three games [in the sectional this year]. You need a little bit more pitching. You've got to play an extra game. It's always good to get the first win. If you lose the first game, now you're down to single-elimination the rest of the way.''Thanks to Turley's work and a quick start (two first-inning runs), Whitman didn't have to worry about things like three infield errors and his 3-4-5 hitters going a combined 0 of 10 at the plate."That's not very good,'' Whitman said. "We haven't been hitting the ball great, but we were aggressive on the bases and got into scoring position. We got a few early hits to score some runs . . . We're going to have to be more productive with out at-bats at some point. Hopefully that starts tomorrow. But as long as we're pitching the way we're pitching and play defense enough to squeak it out, it gives you a chance.''The Red Dragons swiped three bases and all three of those runners came around to score. Leadoff man Phoenix Shrewsbury started rallies with singles in the first and seventh, stole second and eventually scored on hits by Turley - an RBI single in the first and a run-scoring double in the seventh.Bobby Grishaber and Lucas Carfagna added sacrifice flies for SA's other runs.Turley allowed an unearned run in the sixth - helped along by his own throwing error on a pickoff attempt at second base - and was nearly pulled after six innings."Coach said if I let a runner on [in the seventh], he was going to take me out,'' Turley said. "I did everything in my power to not let that happen.''"He talked me out of pulling him,'' Whitman said. "He said, 'Coach, let me finish.' I thought he's a senior, he wants the ball, he wants to finish. I told him if he got one baserunner [he was out], and he did the job.''
Nitro got its lone run when Evan Eich led off the sixth with a single, took second on a wild pitch and third on Turley's error. Eich scored on Dylan Slack's sac fly to right.The Wildcats didn't have many scoring opportunities. SA catcher Josh Burks cut down two would-be base stealers in the first two innings and the Red Dragons pulled a 4-6-3 double play in the fifth."The bottom line,'' said Nitro coach Steve Pritchard, "I thought for anybody who watched this game is their kids wanted to win more than our kids did. They competed harder. We scored one in the sixth, and they got one back in the seventh."I thought our pitchers [freshmen Matt Harrison and Andrew Stone] did OK. Harrison was flat early, but he got OK. We pulled him out [in the fourth] because we didn't want their hitters to see him three times in four innings. Stoney did a great job.''Nitro is now 1-8 in games where it scores three runs or fewer."Our hitters did nothing,'' Pritchard said. "That's lackluster. That's exactly what we were all day. Not good quality at-bats. The last two weeks, I thought we'd straightened our offense out, but we went right back to our first 20 games. It doesn't give you a chance to win and it looks not competitive.
"It's almost like the Nitro Untouchables. They know everything, but nothing positive happens when they play their game. We're going to play the guys who are going to listen to the coach. That's the bottom line.''SA won despite missing its top hitter and one of its best pitchers - Joey Dodrill - who sat out with a hamstring injury.Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.