The weather cooled St. Joseph’s pitcher and Moorefield’s pitcher froze the Irish bats.
The defending state champion Yellow Jackets (26-11) defeated St. Joe 10-0 in a mercy-rule-shortened Class A state baseball tournament semifinal game Saturday morning at Appalachian Power Park. Moorefield advanced to Sunday’s championship game vs. Charleston Catholic (27-10), which beat Wheeling Central 10-4 Saturday.
“We had an incredible run,” St. Joseph coach David Jenkins said. “We have a lot of kids coming back. The core of our pitching staff is all going to be back next year. Hopefully, we knocked on the door this year and next year we kick it in.”
One of those returning players is Lenny Washington, the starting and losing pitcher Saturday. The hard-throwing junior right-hander usually tops out at 91 mph, but reached no higher than 87 Saturday. Washington’s curve ball also lacked snap and rarely found the strike zone. The temperature never touched 60 degrees during the game and Jenkins said that bothered his pitcher.
“Obviously both of us had to play in it,” Jenkins said of the damp, cool weather. “If it’s 80 degrees or more, Lenny’s a lot more loose. When it’s warmer, he’s better.”
Washington’s struggles were evident from the outset. He threw 44 pitches in a first inning, during which he struck out three but also walked three and allowed three runs on two hits. By the end of the second inning, Washington had thrown 71 pitches and the Irish trailed 7-0.
Yellow Jackets’ ace Isaac Van Meter pitched well, striking out seven, walking three and allowing three hits. Van Meter said he, too, grappled for control of his curve, but overcame his difficulties with his fastball.
“My two-seamer was moving today,” Van Meter said. “I threw a change and one splitter late, but I mostly threw my two-seamer because it was moving so well.”
Van Meter said his game plan was simple.
“Throw a lot of strikes and see what they could do with them,” Van Meter said.
St. Joseph had opportunities, putting runners on base in all five innings. In the first inning, Noah Beter led off with a hard smash that appeared headed down the left field line, but third baseman Hayden Baldwin made a leaping catch for an out. Two batters later, Washington doubled off the left field wall, but Van Meter (7-0) struck out Hunter Eplin to end the threat.
“If [Baldwin] doesn’t make that play, then Lenny doubles off the wall and it’s 1-0,” Jenkins said. “It could have been a whole different ballgame. That’s baseball. The breaks don’t go your way some days.”
In the second, the Irish again put their leadoff hitter on as Connor Joseph walked. Bronson Barker, though, grounded into a double play before Max Adkins grounded to second to end the threat.
Moorefield, meanwhile, took advantage of every opportunity. Brent Moran and Baldwin sandwiched walks around a Van Meter single before Blake Watts ripped a bases-clearing double down the left-field line to make it 3-0.
In the second, Washington (7-4) hit nine-hole hitter Thomas Williams with a pitch then gave up an infield hit to Brent Moran. Van Meter sacrificed both runners before Baldwin blooped a single to right to score Williams. Watts then singled to left to score Moran. Baldwin scored on a passed ball and Lane Ours hit a sacrifice fly to plate Watts to make it 7-0.
The Yellow Jackets added three runs off reliever Cory Sweeney in the fourth. Baldwin singled in Williams before he and courtesy runner Caden Kimble scored on Watts’ double into the right-field corner. Watts finished 3 for 3 with six runs batted in. Baldwin went 2 for 2 with two RBIs.
Van Meter said he is confident heading into the title game.
“I think we have a good shot,” the sophomore pitcher said. “We have a good game plan. It’ll be tough, but we have a lot of experience.”
Van Meter, who went 2 for 2, said experience might have been a key factor Saturday. St. Joe hadn’t been to the state tournament since 1987. Jenkins agreed and said he hopes the experience will help the Irish next season.
“They came out and the first five or six guys put the barrel on the ball,” Jenkins said of Moorefield. “When they got two strikes, they just tried to put it in play. They have a good team. They’re veterans and were here last year. It was our first time in 32 years.”
Jenkins said his team has much for which to be proud.
“You think about it, they probably don’t realize how improbable that run was,” Jenkins said of 11 players. “All it would have taken was one injury. The flu bug could have hit us and we’d have been done. Our school had a sophomore retreat and I have three sophomores, so I couldn’t schedule a game during that time because I didn’t have enough to play.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these kids, the seniors who stepped up. I had two seniors who came out this year. Without them we wouldn’t have played.”