BUFFALO — Buffalo starting pitcher Aaron Lewis threw hard en route to shutting out Wahama in a Class A Region 4 semifinal Tuesday, and while he said he didn’t feel warm until the final innings, he continually fired through the White Falcons’ batting order.
Lewis recorded 14 strikeouts, including his first 12 outs, and allowed just three hits, though he didn’t feel to form until the game’s latter half in a 1-0 Buffalo win. With the win, the Bison advance to the regional final to play host to Gilmer County 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I wasn’t loose, I wasn’t loose until about midway through the game or so,” Lewis said. “I didn’t really have my stuff.”
As Lewis dispatched the White Falcons hitters, Wahama senior starting pitcher Hunter Bradley matched Lewis’ effort save the strikeouts. Bradley allowed just one unearned run on three hits and struck out five. The two pitchers combined to make quick work of each squad’s hitters. After an approximate 45-minute rain day before the contest began, the game finished in less than 90 minutes.
“When you get in these regional games like this, that’s when you see these short games, because it’s a pitchers duel, and we knew that,” Bison coach Jimmy Tribble said. “We knew that going in.”
Because of the game’s tone and lack of offense, Tribble gave Buffalo baserunner Nick Gunter the green light to race home from third base with two outs in the third inning. Gunter reached on a two-out infield single, stole second, then advanced to third on a wild pitch, and Gunter scored on a second wild pitch.
“That’s why I told my guy on third base, ‘If that ball gets by that catcher, you’re going,’” Tribble said, “because that may have been — that was the only man we got to third base, I believe.”
The lone run proved to be all Lewis needed as he continued to dominate on the mound. Though Lewis recorded just two of his 14 strikeouts after the fourth inning, Tribble said Lewis improved as the game progressed.
“He just humped it up tonight,” Tribble said of Lewis’ performance. “Aaron, he’s in great condition, too. He didn’t get tired. I don’t know if you know this, but he was throwing harder in the seventh than he was in the first. The first kid, he absolutely — that must have been 88, 89 (miles per hour). I mean he popped it.”
In a win-or-go-home situation, Tribble said Lewis found the effort to power Buffalo (18-11) past Wahama (17-10) to extend the season at least one more game.
“We told the team you don’t go play the next one, if you don’t win this one, so whatever we had to do with Aaron, we’re going to do to win this one,” he said. “Unfortunately, we had to go all seven innings, so he’s dead for Thursday, but that’s OK. That’s OK. We got other guys, and they have to step up now.”
Not all started well for Lewis and Buffalo, though, as Wahama looked to strike early in its first at bat.
In the first, Lewis allowed back-to-back, one-out hits but recovered to strike out the No. 4 and No. 5 White Falcons batters. In the second, Wahama threatened by loading the bases with two outs, but again Lewis quelled the would-be rally with a strikeout.
By game’s end, Lewis limited Wahama’s fourth and fifth batters to an 0-for-5 night with one walk. White Falcons clean-up hitter Wesley Harrison struck out twice, in unusual fashion, Wahama coach Tom Cullen said.
“We had our chances early, but we couldn’t take advantage of it,” Cullen said. “Harrison struck out five times all season and he struck out what? Twice tonight? He struck out three times all last year.”
“(Lewis) just throws it hard. Hard, then he mixes in his curveball and stuff. He kept them off balance, but he over-powered the middle of our order. He just blew it by us.”
Wahama senior shortstop Wyatt Zuspan recorded the game’s lone multi-hit performance finishing 2-for-3, with two singles.
The White Falcons had entered with a four-game winning streak, but in a game determined by one unearned run, Wahama’s season met its close.
“That’s baseball, two great pitchers just battling it out,” Cullen said. “They get a break and win it.”
Buffalo advanced to the regional semifinal matchup by defeating Charleston Catholic in the best-of-three Section 4 tournament. After losing the series’ first game, the Bison rebounded with back-to-back wins to advance.
Buffalo will next face Gilmer County, who defeated Parkersburg Catholic 5-2 on Tuesday.