BUFFALO — Somewhere in the sea of Aaron Lewis strikeouts, Charleston Catholic batters managed to get some metal on the Buffalo ace’s pitches.
When they did, good things happened for the Irish.
Catholic strung together seven hits and a few Bison errors, and used good outfield play to win 8-4 in the Class A Region 4 Section 4 tournament. The teams meet again at 6:30 p.m. today at Buffalo, with Catholic needing one win to advance to regionals.
Lewis struck out eight in three innings, after which he was replaced by Laythen Good. In the third, Lewis struck out four batters, but that meant one of them reached base — and in this case, scored the go-ahead run.
Leadoff hitter Jordan Covelli was the one who whiffed and reached first anyway, courtesy of a wild pitch. Sam McKown singled Covelli over to third and, after Trae Swisher walked, Covelli scored on another wild pitch.
That was merely one run, but it was the one that gave the Irish a 4-3 lead it did not relinquish. Catholic’s scoring began with three runs in the first, continued with three in the fourth and finished with an error-aided run in the fifth.
In the fourth, pitcher Connor Golden doubled in a run and McKown tallied his third RBI with a ground out.
Lewis gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead in the top of the first with a sacrifice fly, with Nick Gunther alertly scoring on a short fly caught by the second baseman. When Lewis went to the mound, he got three strikeouts.
But he didn’t quite strike out the side on the Irish (21-9).
With one out, Covelli walked. Golden hit a grounder to first baseman Blake Caplinger, who opted to try to get Covelli at second instead of taking the easier out at first. Caplinger’s throw hit Covelli in the helmet, putting runners at first and second.
McKown compounded that error with a two-run single to right for a 2-1 Catholic lead. With two outs, Swisher followed two batters later with a run-scoring single.
“Trae Swisher has really, really improved over the course of the season,” said Catholic coach Bill Mehle. “[He’s a] freshman coming into the program; I had to really convince him early on how to take a two-strike approach, grip up on the bat, hit the ball to the opposite field with a line-drive swing plane.
“And he has bought into it and learned. It was a huge hit off Lewis in the first inning. I think that planted the seed of doubt [in Lewis] that we’re not going to go down swinging and missing.”
Buffalo (15-11) came back in the top of the second with a Caplinger double, a Connor Fields walk, a Brandon Buntura single, an error that resulted in one run and Gunther’s bases-loaded walk that tied the game at 3.
But that’s all the Bison scored until the seventh inning on doubles by Good and Fisher. In the third through sixth innings, Golden (9-0) gave up three hits and no walks.
Golden’s outfielders had his back, so to speak. Left-fielder Michael Martin was solid, catching two hard-hit Fisher fly balls near the fence, and robbing Fields with a diving catch in the sixth.
That impressed Buffalo coach Jimmy Tribble, who was less enthusiastic about his team’s performance.
“What hurts us, and it’s hurt us in the games we’ve lost, we get a guy on with two outs,” he said. “We can’t get the leadoff guys on, and we can’t start that big inning. When we do have them on there, we can’t get them in.
“I bet we’ve left more men on base than anybody in West Virginia.”
For the record, Buffalo’s leadoff hitters made outs in the first four innings, and the Bison stranded seven runners.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.