Hedgesville celebrates, and it counts
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hedgesville starting pitcher Derrick Snider had to overcome several obstacles in the Class AAA championship game Saturday evening.
The junior surrendered two runs in the top of the first inning, then was tackled during a premature celebration in the seventh and had to gather himself to record the final out, but at every turn he came up big as the Eagles captured their first state championship with a 4-2 decision over Cabell Midland. A crowd of about 800 attended the matchup of state-ranked teams at Appalachian Power Park.
Hedgesville (29-7), which finished No. 1 in the Gazette's final state rankings, ended the year on an 11-game winning streak in reaching states for the first time since 1974 and advancing to its first title game. No. 5 Midland (23-11), which saw its 11-game winning streak snapped, was appearing in its first state tourney since losing in the 2006 championship game to South Charleston. The Knights won their only title in 2003.
"Our team never thought it would be like this at the beginning of the year,'' said Snider. "We started being a family and stopped fighting with each other. Now we're state champions.''
After allowing those two runs in the first, Snider fired scoreless ball over the final six innings. He yielded just two earned runs, scattered eight hits, struck out three and walked two in the 99-pitch complete-game effort.
"It was jitters,'' said Snider of the first inning. "It's my first time in the state tournament. I left the ball up. I got the butterflies out and kept the ball down. The offense hit the ball for me and got my confidence on the mound.''
"I thought we hit the ball harder than they did, but right at them,'' said Midland coach Tracy Brumfield, whose team outhit Hedgesville 8-5. " We never knocked [Snider] out of the game.''
Then Snider had to refocus after one of the most bizarre championship moments in state tournament history.
With two outs in the top of the seventh, several of Snider's teammates stormed out of the dugout celebrating wildly - even tackling him hard to the ground - after they thought Eagles junior center fielder Troy Markley caught a game-ending fly ball off the bat of Midland's Taylor Kuhn.
Markley, though, dropped the ball for an error and the Knights remained alive. Snider had to take a few minutes and walk around the mound before resuming.
"I didn't know what was going on,'' Snider explained. "I looked toward the crowd and everybody was stunned. I looked around and Troy didn't have the ball in his hand and I was like, 'What happened?'
"The umpire told me he dropped the ball. I said, 'All right, sir.' I got back on the mound and did my thing. Justin [Compton] tackled me pretty hard. I scratched my elbow, but it's all right. It didn't hurt me too bad. I just took a couple of breaths, walked around the mound and focused in.''
Snider was then greeted by a line drive into left field from Midland junior Seth Kinker, who finished 4 for 4 with a double and RBI, to put runners on first and second with two outs.
After a first-pitch ball, Snider induced a bouncing grounder from Knights sophomore Brighton Jobe. Hedgesville junior second baseman Hunter Knight fielded the ball cleanly and flipped it to Eagles senior shortstop J.W. Wright to end the game as the Eagles could finally enjoy the victory for real.
"Hopefully it's a start of many years of successful baseball at Hedgesville,'' said Eagles coach Dirk Webb, who loses seven seniors. "People that come through our program now can build upon this and continue a tradition. We have a lot of juniors on the team and hopefully they can draw on the experience and make a run next year.''
After the shaky first inning, Snider didn't allow another runner to reach second until the seventh inning and he stranded eight. He even picked Kinker off first base in the third.
"[Snider] was scaring us a little bit in the first inning,'' Webb said. "After that he did an outstanding job keeping the ball down and getting a lot of ground balls.''
Kinker and Jobe hit back-to-back doubles to each drive in a run and give Midland its 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Midland was looking for more when Knight snagged junior Cody Ballengee's hard-hit liner for the second out. After Snider walked Knights sophomore Eli Canterbury to put runners at first and second, Snider got Midland sophomore Brady Elkins on an infield pop out to end the threat.
Hedgesville took the lead for good with four runs in the bottom of the fourth. Junior Tyler Anders, who finished 2 for 2 with a double, delivered a two-run single to knot the game at 2-all. Senior Cameron Jordan's run-scoring groundout gave the Eagles a 3-2 edge and junior Adam Ruppenthal's RBI liner to center closed out the scoring.
Junior Derek Adkins kept the Knights close, tossing three scoreless innings of relief while allowing only two hits. Midland junior starter Tyler Hayes took the loss, giving up four earned runs on three hits in three innings with six strikeouts and three walks.
Markley, Wright and senior Cody Butts were all-tournament selections for Hedgesville while Kinker, Elkins, Canterbury and Jobe were picked from Midland, which loses one starter to graduation.
"It's not like we played bad,'' said Midland's Kinker, who fired a two-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts Friday night in the semifinals. "We hit the ball hard all day. I'm feeling it for the seniors. It really hurts. You've got to get over it quickly and focus on next year and get better. We'll be back.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.