A quick but potent rainstorm delayed the start of Thursday’s Class AAA Region 3 championship baseball game at Riverside’s Eric J. Smith Field.
But for Riverside, the one-hour, five-minute delay was well worth the wait when junior left-hander Brady Wilkinson stuck out Greenbrier East’s Colby Johnson to seal a 9-4 win and propel the Warriors into next week’s state tournament.
Riverside (19-10), which had seen its last two seasons come to disappointing conclusions in the regional championship round, advances to the school’s first state tournament in its 15 seasons of existence. Greenbrier East’s season ended at 17-8.
Wilkinson wasn’t dominant on the mound, but seemed to pick up steam as the game progressed, collecting six strikeouts over the final three innings.
“I always get stronger toward the end of the game,” said Wilkinson, who allowed eight hits, while striking out nine and walking six. “I knew when we were coming into this game that we were going to win.
“We’re in the driver’s seat now. We just need to keep it going.”
Riverside first-year coach Pat Vogelsang expected Wilkinson to battle on the mound.
“Hat’s off to Brady,” Vogelsang said. “That was a real hard-fought game and that’s why I love that kid. He gets better and better and better as the game goes on.”
Wilkinson struggled early, allowing a pair runs on three hits and two walks, but allowed only two more runs the rest of way, while stranding 11 East runners.
While Wilkinson battled through his early troubles, Spartans starter Frank Ford wasn’t as fortunate.
Ford, a sophomore left-hander, struggled with his command from the outset, lasting just 2/3 of an inning, in which he allowed three runs and surrendered six walks.
“We did not play the brand of baseball that we played all year and 9 to 4 shows it,” East coach Scott Vogelsong said. “You’ve got to not walk people, you’ve got to get runners in when they’re in scoring position and you can’t have unearned runs. Walks lead to unearned runs.”
Riverside senior second baseman Derik Chestnut credited the team’s chemistry and desire for finally getting it over the regional final hump.
“This means everything to us,” Chestnut said. “We’ve given it our all this year looking for this and I’m just so glad we got it. The past two years have been heartbreaking at the end.
“This team has a ton of heart. I think that’s the difference with this team. We’ve had no issues with the kids on this team and that can make a difference.”
Riverside managed just three hits off of three Spartans pitchers, but took advantage of two East errors, 12 walks and a pair of balks, the first of which plated the Warriors’ first run.
“It wasn’t clean,” Vogelsang said. “We weren’t exactly the cleanest and not exactly the smoothest, but I thought we played a lot of smart baseball. We didn’t make mental errors and it turned out all right for us.”
After spotting the Spartans a two-run lead in the first, Riverside’s opportunist evening began by turning six walks, two balks and a sacrifice fly by Wilkinson into a 3-2 advantage.
Riverside built the lead to 4-2 in the second when Trevor Smith singled, stole second and scored from there on a wild pitch by East reliever Daylon Colley.
Smith, a junior outfielder, finished with two hits, while scoring three runs and knocking another with a fifth inning sacrifice fly.
After a scoreless third, East knotted the game at four apiece on back-to-back, two-out, RBI singles by Jonathan Carr and Colley.
Riverside again answered a Spartans two spot with three runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Smith stole home for the first run of the inning, while Chaz Davis contributed an RBI double. Wilkinson made it 7-4 with his second sacrifice fly of the evening.
The Warriors added a pair of insurance runs in the fifth on Smith’s sacrifice fly, and a wild pitch that scored Chestnut with the game’s final run.
Colley led East with three hits, including a double and two RBI.
For Vogelsang, who moved to West Virginia from Fresno, Calif., last summer, the win was a chance to give back to the community that helped get the team over the hump.
“This is huge,” said Vogelsang of the several hundred fans that attended the regional games Wednesday and Thursday. “It’s great to see these crowds. The crowds last night and tonight have been phenomenal.
“The hope is that this can carry over into other sports and into other years. If this keeps on going, this is going to be a real dangerous place. It will be awesome.”