Bridgeport's Hunter Mann eludes the tag of Fairmont Senior catcher Gage Hannah to score the tying run in the ninth inning.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Steve Naternicola's luck at the state baseball tournament may be changing for the better if Thursday evening was any indication.The veteran Fairmont Senior coach, whose teams went 0 for 7 in Class AAA championship games, saw his team rally twice - scoring the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the top of the 10th inning then holding on in the bottom of the frame - to finally put away rival Bridgeport 9-6 in a topsy-turvy AA semifinal at Appalachian Power Park.The Polar Bears (28-6), second in the Gazette's state rankings, will play in the championship game at 10 a.m. Saturday against No. 1 Herbert Hoover, which defeated No. 4 Independence 7-3 on Hunter White's walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the seventh in Thursday's late semifinal.Fairmont has reached the state tournament 10 of the past 11 seasons in AAA with five runner-up finishes since 2003 before moving down to AA this season.No. 3 Bridgeport (30-7) made it to Charleston three of the last four years, losing in the AAA semis last season.Fairmont defeated Bridgeport 5-4 after plating a run in the bottom of the seventh in their only regular-season meeting in April, and Thursday's meeting didn't lack for drama either as the last four innings featured two ties and two lead changes.Polar Bears junior Johnny Kesling led off the top of the 10th with a single to center field, and was replaced by freshman pinch-runner Austin Kuhn. Fairmont Senior junior Ryder Skarzinski doubled to left field to put runners at second and third with none out, and Kuhn came home on a pitch in the dirt that kicked away from Bridgeport catcher A.C. Caldera.
Fairmont sophomore No. 8 hitter Jayce Riley added a two-out, run-scoring double and junior Bailey Mohr, who bats ninth, singled in another run for a 9-6 advantage.That proved to be enough as Polar Bears senior reliever Fletcher DeVaul retired Indians senior Cullin Cutright on a flyout to center field to start the bottom of the 10th then walked Bridgeport senior Troy Anderson. After that, DeVaul induced Indians junior Tyler Skidmore to fly to center then struck out senior Tyler Marks to end the game.That touched off a wild celebration between home plate and the pitcher's mound. Fairmont catcher Gage Hannah and DeVaul met halfway and bumped chests as the rest of the team flooded in to enjoy the moment."It says something about our program and our kids,'' Naternicola said of the hard-fought victory. "We've been to Myrtle Beach [S.C.], Cocoa Beach [Fla.] and Winter Haven [Fla.], we go all over to the place to play pretty good competition.''
Naternicola also hopes that his new postseason routine may lead to some good karma in the title game."I don't drink,'' he said, "but every year the last six or seven years when we've won the regionals I would go over to this place I eat and I would drink one beer. Well, after we won the regionals [this year], I didn't drink [a beer]. I drank my Diet Pepsi I drink every time so maybe that's going to bring me good luck.''Fairmont took a 6-4 lead in the top of the ninth on DeVaul's two-out, two-run double but Bridgeport came right back with two out in the bottom of the frame on senior No. 9 batter Logan Zirkle's sacrifice fly and junior Greg Smith's two-out RBI single.Fairmont knotted the game at 4-all in the top of the seventh on senior Matthew Robbins' one-out, run-scoring groundout. Riley reached on an error to open the inning as Bridgeport second baseman Marks failed to pick up a bouncing grounder.
Polar Bears freshman pinch-runner Nicholas Davisson moved to second on Mohr's sacrifice bunt, then Robbins dribbled one to shortstop to push across Davisson. DeVaul followed with a single, but the Polar Bears' Austin Norman fanned.Bridgeport put runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, but Cutright flied out to center."We still had opportunities with runners in scoring position,'' said Bridgeport coach Robert Shields, whose team left six runners stranded and three in the last four innings. "We just didn't come through in the bottom half of those innings."A lot of [Fairmont Senior's] leadoff guys got on. That hurts because it puts you in a position that you're behind with a runner on base. I thought we fought out of a lot of it. I hate losing, but I'm so proud of these kids. Nothing to be ashamed of.''Fairmont's DeVaul earned the win, tossing 11/3 scoreless innings. He also went 3 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. Norman finished with two triples and two RBIs for the Polar Bears.Robbins started for Fairmont and surrendered four earned runs on seven hits in 42/3 innings while Andrew Strand tossed four innings of relief, allowing two earned runs on two hits.
Bridgeport's Smith went 3 for 5 with a triple, an inside-the-park two-run home run that put the Indians up 4-3 in the fifth, and five RBIs. Indians starter Troy Anderson, who threw just two innings all season, gave up three earned runs on six hits in five innings. Bridgeport reliever Tyler Skidmore suffered the loss, allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits in 41/3 innings with four strikeouts and no walks.Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com
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