HURRICANE, W.Va. — Huntington baseball coach Danny Harbert asked his team a poignant question following his team’s 5-1 victory over Cabell Midland in Monday’s Mountain State Athletic Conference semifinal at Lola Meeks Memorial Field.
“Stephen (Holland) has given up one earned run all year,” Harbert said. “Try to wrap your head around that.”
The second earned run didn’t come against the Knights (16-9), whose batters were befuddled by a combination of curveballs and sliders that resulted in seven strikeouts, one walk and general confusion.
The victory sends Huntington into Tuesday’s MSAC championship game at approximately 7 p.m. when the Highlanders (16-8) will face the winner of the second semifinal, top-seeded Hurricane.
A victim of two strikeouts was Cabell Midland shortstop and No. 3 hitter Seth Kinker, who finished as runner-up for state player of the year honors last season.
“Curveball and slider have been pretty dominant this year,” said Holland, who has 73 strikeouts, 16 walks in 48 1/3 innings with a 0.15 earned run average. “I’m not always in a groove. Sometimes I have this pitch on and that pitch on, but pretty much one of my pitches was on. Actually, my fastball was one of my weaker pitches today. I was tearing it up with change, curve and slider. I’m pretty happy with how I’ve been throwing.”
About the only mistake Holland made was throwing a 3-2 fastball to Kinker, who rocketed it off the left-field wall for a one-out double in the sixth.
“He threw the ball well,” Cabell Midland coach Tracy Brumfield said. “He’s one of the better pitchers in the (MSAC). But, he kept us off-balance.”
Cabell Midland didn’t help itself against the Highlanders (16-8), with four pitchers walking 10 batters, hitting four and committing three errors. Additionally, Huntington stranded 17 runners.
“We had four hits, they had six,” Brumfield said. “But, when you give up four hit batsmen, 10 walks and three errors. It makes your defense back on its heels. The game went slow, but Holland kept us off-balance.”
Huntington started strong, despite not scoring a run in the first inning. Jack Brunetti — who was 2-2 with a bunt single and a double — reached base to open the game. He was erased, but the Highlanders left the bases loaded.
Harbert’s team broke open in the second when Chase Ashworth singled, Huntington put down one of its three textbook sacrifice bunts and No. 9 hitter Brice Leep knocked in the first run.
Brunetti — who was hit by two pitches, with one producing an RBI — then doubled. Two batters later, Vanderbilt signee Joey Mundy singled home two runs.
The 3-0 lead was more than enough for Holland, who allowed one unearned run, but only allowed one other baserunner past first base. That was Brady Elkins, who opened the fifth with a single, but was stranded.
“Stephen’s a worker, he works hard year around,” Harbert said. “He’s dedicated his life to the game. I expect to see results like today, but it really impressed me against a good Midland team for his effort, for him to come out and pitch well, starting them out with a curveball, throwing those for strikes and then bringing the gas when he needed to.”
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TOP-SEEDED Hurricane kept alive its chance for a fourth consecutive MSAC championship and junior J.T. Rogoszewski avenged a loss to Parkersburg in a 10-0 five-inning victory over the Big Reds (10-11) in their tournament semifinal game at Hurricane.
The Redskins (18-5) did it without coach Brian Sutphin, who was suspended three games for being ejected during a contest at the Derby Classic.
The win moves Hurricane (18-5) into the MSAC championship at Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Huntington. The consolation game pits Cabell Midland and Parkersburg at 5 p.m.
Hurricane had just seven hits, but made them count with Brandon Pauley’s two hits producing three runs and Trey Dawson with a double and three RBI. Rogoszewski had two hits and an RBI.
As for Rogoszewski, he dropped a 4-1 decision to Parkersburg in Hurricane earlier this season.
“He competed, that’s the big difference,” Hurricane assistant coach Billy Biggs said of Rogoszewski. “We told him what we tell all our pitchers, high elbow, low pitch. Work down, and I thought he battled. It shows a lot, that he’s maturing.”
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail.