Charleston Catholic's Thad Jameson (right) is hugged by teammate Nelson McKown after scoring the winning run in the bottom of the seventh in the Fighting Irish's win over Valley.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's something about this year's state baseball tournament - one fantastic finish after another.Charleston Catholic kept the thrills coming Friday afternoon, as Connor Golden bounced a bases-loaded chopper over a drawn-in infield in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving the Irish a 6-5 victory over Valley in the Class A semifinals.The win sends Catholic (29-9), the No. 2 team in the Gazette's state ratings, into the championship game for a second time in three years. The Irish tackle No. 1 Magnolia (31-4) at approximately 1 p.m. today.No. 5 Valley (23-8), down to its last at-bat in the top of the seventh, pushed two runs across to tie the game at 5, getting RBI hits from Raeshawn Breckenridge and Cody Winter.
The Greyhounds, however, also had two runners thrown out at the plate in that inning, including one for the third out, giving the Irish momentum heading into the home half of the seventh.It marked the fourth straight exciting conclusion at this weekend's state tournament. In the first three games, the team that trailed after six innings eventually won - one (Fairmont Senior) in 10 innings and another (Herbert Hoover) on a walk-off grand slam.Golden said he had that very thought run across his mind before he drove in the winning run with no one out in the bottom of the seventh."Especially watching the Hoover game [Thursday] night,'' Golden said. "Hunter White [who hit the grand slam], I've played with him for a while. I just thought wouldn't it be funny if I could do that?"I didn't expect to be the hero and chances were I wasn't going to be the hero, but to be in this situation is just how the game happens. Rocco [Wilcox] could have been in this situation, a number of people could have been in my situation, but we got the win.''The heroes were plenty for Catholic, including Andy Hoyer, who worked six strong innings despite not being able to throw his breaking pitches for strikes, shortstop Kiefer Hovorka, who helped turn two double plays and earned the victory with an inning of relief, and catcher Drew Cable, who tagged out two Greyhounds attempting to score in the top of the seventh.That inning ended with Winter's RBI single to center, in which outfielder Wilcox fired a one-hop BB to Cable to cut down Arik McGinnis, who ran through a stop sign from coach Joe Craffey at third base and thundered into a shoulder-first collision with Cable."Two huge plays defensively were obviously the plays at the plate,'' said Irish coach Bill Mehle. "To get two outs at the plate when the game's on the line like that . . . Rocco did a heck of a job. He threw a strike - a long-skip strike, and that's what we practice. [Cable] looked the ball into his glove and the throws were on line, just very well executed.''Catholic, which had led 4-1 after three innings, found itself needing a seventh-inning tally to pull it out.Thad Jameson, the No. 9 hitter, smacked a single to left and Wilcox drew a walk off McGinnis, who went the distance for Valley. Hovorka dropped down an intended sacrifice bunt that was mishandled, loading the bases with none out.Golden then followed with his high chopper over the infield.
"We knew we could find a way to execute and push one across,'' Mehle said, "and we did it textbook - single, walk, bunt to get him in scoring position, then Connor came up and put the ball in play.''Valley, which lost in the state semifinals for a third straight year, certainly helped the Irish cause at times, committing three infield errors, issuing six walks and freezing on back-to-back fielder's choices in the fourth that led to a Catholic run.Grounders were fielded at second and short, but hesitation by the fielders resulted in no plays at any base."You can't fault the effort,'' said Valley coach Joe Craffey. "Sometimes it just happens. We're still talking about high school kids playing on this stage.''Craffey, however, was also quick to point out the fight in his players, who got a two-run single from John Riddle in the fourth to make it 4-3, then the two runs to tie it during desperation time in the seventh."They very easily could have thrown in the towel,'' Craffey said, "down two and facing their two best pitchers. But they played like they have all year - played up until the end of the game, and that's all we can ask.''
Craffey acknowledged that after McGinnis was involved in a big collision at the plate in the top of the seventh, he had trouble locating his pitches the next time on the mound, though his fastball was still being clocked at 85 mph."He just couldn't find the strike zone in the seventh inning,'' Craffey said. "At this point, you don't look [to say] this happened because of this. He'd be the first one to tell you he didn't find the strike zone. He's man enough about it to man up to what happened. That's why we put him out there, because he gave us the best chance to win out there today.''McGinnis entered the game with 94 strikeouts in 48 innings, but the Irish did a good job of making contact, fanning only three times and getting nine hits."We expected a dogfight,'' Golden said of the Greyhounds, "because they're a real competitive bunch. I don't think we put it on cruise control. They came through with some timely hits and they hit our best pitching. So tip the hat to them. We fought, and I was real proud of us.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.