The last time Gilmer County was in the regional baseball final was 2010, when the Titans fell 9-0 to Wheeling Central.
Four years later, the Titans earned a little redemption, pounding out 15 hits and overcoming a four-run deficit to take down Buffalo 10-5 in the Class A Region 4 final Saturday at Buffalo High School.
The win sends Gilmer to next week’s state tournament semifinals against Notre Dame at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.
“Four of those seniors started in the regional championship as freshman four years ago,” said Gilmer County coach Joe Frashure. “But these seniors work and work. They’re a great group of kids. They’re getting close to 100 wins in their careers, and I couldn’t be happier for those seniors.”
Gilmer senior starting pitcher Adam Beall scattered four hits and struck out eight in a complete-game effort.
“I thought Adam did a great job of keeping his head. They hit the ball hard, but we misplayed three or four balls there and gave them what they had,” said Frashure. “But that’s Adam Beall and that’s what he’s been for us for four years. He’s a tough competitor.”
Buffalo struck first, plating two runs in the bottom of the first on a Gilmer County error and an RBI groundout by Brad Harris.
Gilmer had a chance to tie in the top of the second. With two on and two out, Gilmer’s Stephen Coleman singled up the middle, but the Buffalo defense was able to gun down Beall at home for the third out and get Bison starter Aaron Lewis out of the jam.
“I thought Aaron threw pretty good. He didn’t have his best stuff today, but [Gilmer] put the bat on the ball,” said Buffalo coach Jimmy Tribble. “I’ve seen him much better, but it was hot and humid and he was throwing quite a few pitches. He gave us all he had.”
Lewis helped his cause in the bottom of the third, crushing an 0-1 pitch over the left-field wall to give the Bison a 3-0 edge. Buffalo’s Connor Fields led off the fourth with a double and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Nick Buntura. With two outs, Buffalo’s Laythen Good dropped a bunt down the third-base line for a successful suicide squeeze, scoring Fields and beating the throw to first.
In the top of the fifth, the Titan offense came alive. With one out, Austin Ratliff walked and scored on a triple by Austin Cunningham. Nate Allison singled to score Cunningham and came around on an RBI single by Seth Skinner. Back-to-back doubles by Beall and Colton Rose plated two more runs for the Titans, giving them a 5-4 advantage.
“We knew coming in, if Lewis went, it was gonna be tough as heck. And that guy is tough, he’s good,” said Frashure. “To hit him like we hit him was just a credit to our guys.
“In the fifth, we strung some hits together. Against a tough kid like [Lewis], you need some people to hit the ball in front of you and hits breed hits, and I think thats what happened. The confidence started soaring.”
With a one-run lead, Beall settled down and retired six consecutive Buffalo batters over the fifth and sixth innings.
“When you’re in the game in the regional, you know the other team can hit, so you’ve got to hit with them,” said Tribble. “They won the game and they deserve it because they outhit us and outscored us. They put the ball in play.”
In the top of the seventh, Gilmer’s Luke Beall singled to lead off the inning, advanced to third on a double by Skinner and scored on a single by Rose. With two on, Coleman walked to load the bases, and Ratliff swung on a 1-2 pitch and drove the ball over the left field fence for a grand slam.
“Coach Frashure has been preaching to us when you get two strikes, choke up and put the bat over the plate,” said Ratliff. “And if he throws it in the zone, just try and make contact, and that’s what I did.”
Buffalo still looked like it had some fight left in the seventh. With two outs, the Bison’s Nick Gunter walked and Lewis doubled him in to cut the Titan lead to five, but Beall struck out Buffalo’s John Fisher to seal the victory.
Lewis struck out 13 in 6 1/3 innings and finished 2 for 4 with a double, home run and two RBIs to lead the Bison, who finish the year at 19-11.
“You always hate to have to go out there after the last game and talk to those seniors, especially this bunch because nobody gave them a snowcone’s chance in an oven at being here,” said Tribble. “It’s hard on them because they work and they bust their butts and they come up short and you have to tell them ‘keep you’re head up, you had a good year.’ ”
Cunningham finished 4 for 5 with four RBIs and Rose went 3 for 4 with a double and two RBIs for the Titans (25-10), who are looking to win their first state title since 2001.
“This is my first time going to the state tournament and we’re going to embrace it, take it all in, and hopefully come out with a state championship,” said Ratliff.