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St. Joseph forces deciding sectional baseball game vs. Buffalo

JUSTIN ROGERS | Gazette-Mail
Buffalo’s Connor Fields checks in at second base against St. Joseph Thursday.

BUFFALO — Following a week off, Buffalo missed a chance to advance in the postseason Thursday evening.

Charlie White worked 6 1/3 solid innings and went 3 for 4 with a pair of RBIs to spark St. Joseph to a 7-5 victory over the Bison, setting up a winner-take-all sectional championship game on Friday.

The Irish (12-16) had to come from behind twice Thursday to remain alive in the double-elimination event, getting the eventual winning run on White’s RBI single in the top of the sixth to make it 6-5.

That puts St. Joe again at Buffalo at 6 p.m. Friday, with the Class A Region 4 Section 2 crown on the line, as each team has one loss in the tournament. The winner advances to the best-of-three Region 4 championship series, where it visits Section 1 titlist Ravenswood on Tuesday.

White kept the Bison off balance Thursday, allowing seven hits and four earned runs, striking out seven and walking four. Freshman Lenny Washington closed it out when White reached the 110-pitch limit in the seventh.

“He’s been like that all year,’’ St. Joe coach Dave Jenkins said of White. “We’ve got the pitching and we’ve played really good defense, and we’ve hit the ball well at times.

“We played a real tough schedule this year, and I did that on purpose. There’s been a lot of one-run games to get them ready for this, because we knew when it comes to this, you’ve got to be ready to play. We went to Florida for games and we’ve seen guys throwing 85, 90 miles an hour, we’ve seen curveballs. We’ve seen anything anybody can throw at us.’’

J.P. Hankins and Noah Beter each went 2 for 4 for St. Joe, which managed 10 hits off Bison ace Michael Haber.

Haber didn’t get a lot of support behind him as the Bison committed five errors that led to four unearned runs. Three Irish runs crossed on errors, including two on one ground ball in the top of the third as St. Joe grabbed a 3-1 lead. Haber worked 6 1/3 innings with 10 Ks and one walk.

“Michael Haber didn’t throw a bad game, OK?’’ said Buffalo coach Jimmy Tribble. “We played scared today, and I don’t know what we’re scared of. We’re in the winners bracket. We didn’t have any energy on the field, guys were standing around. We couldn’t cover second base on steals. We’re throwing balls we shouldn’t be throwing. You could just see it coming.’’

Buffalo (13-14) hadn’t played since last Thursday when it beat St. Joe 6-2 to become the only team without a loss in the seven-team field. The Bison then had to wait for a pair of losers bracket games to dance around rain showers before it got to play again.

“We kind of played to keep from losing instead of winning the thing tonight and getting it over with,’’ Tribble said. “Who knows what’s in these kids heads during the day? Maybe they want the season to be finished.

“These guys here [for St. Joseph], they came to play, they want to win. They’re scrapping and we didn’t match up to that. We kind of played lethargic. We didn’t have any energy at the plate, we didn’t have any energy on defense, and you could see it. They just kept pecking away and took advantage of it.’’

Trailing 5-3 in the fifth, St. Joe tied it on Jack Tolliver’s RBI groundout. The other run that inning scored on an infield error. Tolliver played first in the absence of Trevor Barnes, who was nursing a calf strain.

White got his second RBI hit of the game in the sixth to make it 6-5 and the Irish tallied an insurance run in the seventh as Noah Beter led off by reaching on an error and came around to score on Bronson Barker’s RBI fielder’s choice.

Connor Fields and Dillon Williams combined for all but one of Buffalo’s seven hits. Fields was 3 for 4 with a two-run double in the third and Williams went 3 for 3 with an RBI single in the second.

Tribble still hopes his players can flip the momentum for Friday’s decisive game.

“You’ve got to have a short memory,’’ he said, “and come out tomorrow and play with energy and enthusiasm, which they didn’t play with tonight. Maybe they need to have their backs to the wall, I don’t know. We’ll see.’’

Jenkins, meanwhile, thinks his team has gotten Buffalo’s attention and hopes the Bison players are still questioning themselves Friday.

“That’s what we’re hoping for,’’ he said. “We told our kids, ‘Guys, if we beat them today, tomorrow’s an elimination game. It’s a one-game season, and you don’t know how that’s going to affect them.’ We’ve been in tight games all year.’’

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

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