St. Albans junior pitcher Ayden Hodges had a simple message for his team in the middle of Sunday’s Class AAA championship battle with Hurricane.
“I told my guys, ‘I need one run, guys. This will be it,’” Hodges said.
The Red Dragons gave Hodges plenty more, but Hodges made sure his word was good, delivering a one-hit performance over 6 2/3 innings to lead St. Albans to its second title in three seasons with a 5-0 win over Hurricane in front of a large crowd at Appalachian Power Park on Sunday.
The matchup brought together a pair of teams who are no stranger to the field at Appalachian Power Park.
St. Albans’ title win is its second in three years — the other also coming over Hurricane in 2017. For the Redskins, it was their third-consecutive trip to the Class AAA title game. Hurricane (33-6) won the 2018 Class AAA title as well.
With so much experience, the game was going to come down execution, and St. Albans excelled in those situations. The Red Dragons jumped out to an early lead to provide cushion for Hodges before getting important insurance runs in the fifth and sixth inning to put away any chance for a Hurricane comeback.
In the sixth, Ridge Lester delivered an RBI double before an RBI bunt single from Travis Atkins also provided some cushion as the Red Dragons got a complete performance in the win.
“Hats off to the kids,” St. Albans coach Rick Whitman said. “It’s all about the kids. From the last out of the Wheeling Park game last year to this, it’s a great reward for their hard work.”
The win also gave St. Albans a season sweep of Hurricane, which had three of its six losses come at the hands of the Red Dragons. Much like the two regular-season losses, the Redskins simply couldn’t find the key hit when they needed it.
“We just didn’t get that big hit,” Hurricane coach Brian Sutphin said. “I thought we’d get to him as the game went and we didn’t. Obviously, he did his job.”
The win concluded a dominant pitching performance over the two games for St. Albans (34-4), who allowed just one run in two games behind the strength of Hodges and Jake Carr.
For Hodges, the key was his ability to work out of jams throughout the contest.
Despite the Redskins only having one hit, they stranded seven runners in the loss — many of which came on five walks from Hodges.
However, Hodges repeatedly averted his self-inflicted danger by getting timely outs in crucial situations to keep the Redskins from gaining any momentum.
While Carr pitched the Red Dragons into the title game with a win over Wheeling Park, it was his bat that was loud on Sunday against the Redskins.
In a scoreless game in the third inning, Carr delivered an RBI triple to score Drew Whitman with the game’s first run before coming in on Connor Fizer’s RBI groundout to give the Red Dragons a 2-0 lead.
Carr, a veteran of the state tournament, knew how important it was to provide early run-support for Hodges, who was in his first start on the mound at the state tournament.
“When I got up to the plate, I just wanted to hit the ball hard because I knew his fastball was a four-seam fastball,” Carr said. “I got the pitch I saw, and I drove it. When he had me 0-2, I was kind of expecting a curveball, but I said he’s not going to blow a fastball by me. I saw it and reacted and ripped it down the first-base line.”
Getting the first runs of the game was especially important for the Red Dragons after both teams had squandered opportunities to jump out in the first inning.
St. Albans had a bases-loaded, no-out situation and Noah Cummings just missed a grand slam that leaked foul into the party deck at Appalachian Power Park. Hurricane starter Joel Gardner battled back to strike out Cummings before inducing a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat.
Hurricane’s best opportunity to score also came in the first when the Redskins used a walk, stolen base and balk to place a runner at third with one out. After a hit batsman and another stolen base put two runners in scoring position with one out, Hodges struck out Gardner before getting Enzo Lewis to ground out to escape the jam.
Hodges said that escape helped settle him down mentally.
“It made me think through the game that I’ve got this team in my pocket,” Hodges said. “This is my game. I’m going to shut them down.”
Gardner had the lone hit off of Hodges — a bloop single to left field in the fourth inning.