The Nitro High baseball team has been in a hurry to return to the regional championship game.
With their 10-0 win over Point Pleasant on Tuesday in Nitro — the team’s third straight game that ended early via 10-run rule — the Wildcats return to the regional title game for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. After its season ended last year in the sectional round, Nitro (24-8) will play at Hurricane in the Class AAA Region 4 title game. Hurricane defeated Cabell Midland, 1-0, Tuesday.
Nitro coach Steve Pritchard said this year’s Wildcats squad is a little older and a little wiser than the one that fell in the 2013 sectionals.
“The biggest thing is when you start five freshmen and you go into sectional play with your top two pitchers on the shelf,” Pritchard said of last season. “It’s always nice to get back and redeem yourself. It’s a lot more relaxed around here than it was last year, and our seniors have done a better job this year.”
Nitro ended the game in the bottom of the fifth, plating three runs in that inning. The winning run came across the plate when shortstop Solomon Shamblin’s single brought catcher Matt Jewell home from third with one out.
The Wildcats broke the game open in an error-filled second inning for Point Pleasant. Already leading 1-0, the Wildcats brought in their first run of the second on an Eddie Flores single, scoring Matt Harrison from second. Then a pair of miscues helped Nitro bring another pair of runs home and give the Wildcats a 4-0 lead.
Point Pleasant coach Andrew Blain said his Big Blacks couldn’t rebound from that inning.
“You can’t play careless baseball, and tonight I felt we played a little careless,” Blain said. “We gave them a lot of extra opportunities. And a team like Nitro, as good as they are and as well-coached as they are, they’re going to take advantage of it and they’re going to make you pay for it.”
Nitro senior Dylan Slack widened the gap in the fourth after he cranked his first home run of the season over the left field fence. That homer off a fastball also brought home Solomon Shamblin for a 7-0 Nitro lead.
Slack, who Pritchard said is more of a line-drive hitter, said he’ll take a home run even if it’s not what he’s seeking at the plate.
“I just try to hit something hard and address somebody, every single time,” he said. “I’m not going up there trying to look for home runs or anything like that.”
Slack also could take credit for Nitro’s first run of the game. In the first, Shamblin reached first on fielder’s choice, took second on an Evan Potter pitch that sailed over catcher Maxi Toler’s outstretched glove, then went to third on a balk. Slack’s sacrifice fly to left field brought him home.
Point Pleasant’s biggest scoring threat came in the second inning. Nitro starter Jacob Bradley fanned the first two Big Black batters of the inning, but Point Pleasant put runners on second and third on a Toler single, a Nitro error that put Jeremy Tate on base and a passed ball that moved both runners. But Trevor Porter grounded out to end the inning.
Bradley gave up just two more hits the rest of the game and four in all, striking out six and walking two in five innings.
“That’s the thing with Jake,” Pritchard said. “He’s a sophomore and you know there will be innings where he’ll struggle. And you want to get him through it, because anytime he struggles in one inning, he comes back in the next inning or two and throws the ball really well.”
Potter gave up seven runs on six hits with four strikeouts and three walks in four innings for the Big Blacks.
The Wildcats have dominated on their path back to the regional title game, but Slack said Nitro is aware that nothing will come easy after Tuesday night.
“It feels great,” Slack said. “We have a great team and it’s a team effort. Everyone’s doing their job and really coming through. It’s confidence, but we can’t get a big head, because every game is going to be a brawl.”
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.