(Story by Daniel Woods)
INWOOD, W.Va- On a night when hits are hard to come by and the margins are as thin as can be, you want a player with experience in the big moments to step up when the time comes. That’s exactly what Hedgesville’s Noah Brown did on Tuesday to lead the Eagles to a 5-4 first round sectional baseball victory over Musselman.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning, Brown stepped to the dish as his team trailed 4-2 and battled Applemen reliever Wyatt McClintock before lining a single into center field that brought the tying run across while a defensive miscue allowed Austin Manor to come around from first and score what proved to be the winning run.
“I felt good that it was somebody that I sent out there that has been there and done that,” Hedgesville head coach Eric Grove said, “He’s done that in multiple sports. He’s a gritty guy. His swing didn’t look great at times tonight but when we needed him he came through and that’s what leadership does and that’s why he’s at the top of our lineup.
Brown’s go-ahead hit proved to be one of just seven between the two teams in the game as starting pitchers Conner Chancey and Mason McGill dueled through the early innings until some Applemen small-ball got the #2 seed in Class AAA Region II, Section 1 on the board first.
Ryder Ganse became Musselman’s first base runner of the night after being hit by a pitch with one out in the bottom of the third. He advanced to third base thanks to a pair of wild pitches before Izaac Gilbert dropped a picture perfect bunt down the first baseline and Ganse raced home on the safety squeeze for a 1-0 lead.
McGill stranded runners on the corners to limit the damage in the inning and his teammates rewarded him with a walk and a sacrifice bunt putting Brett Pedersen in scoring position for Manor who smacked a double down the left field line that was not only Hedgesville’s first hit off of Chancey but also tied the game.
It was Ganse who again got things started for Musselman, this time in the fifth, with a leadoff single. He went all the way to third when Gilbert laid down another bunt and McGill overthrew first baseman Mason Elliott to leave both runners safe.
The Applemen went back to the squeeze play with McClintock batting, pushing Ganse across for the go-ahead run. After Taryn Boyles was hit by a pitch, that left two men on base for Jason Myers who brought them both home with one swing.
A high-arcing double over the head of left field Pedersen gave Musselman a 4-1 advantage and led Grove to call to the bullpen, ending McGill’s day after 4.2 innings.
While he would have liked to see a different outcome for his freshman hurler’s final pitch of the night, the Hedgesville skipper was pleased to see the lefty step into a big moment already.
“This is a great learning experience, and the fact that we won, if would’ve lost, he still would’ve learned some things but the fact that he was pretty good and kept us in the game and gave up an unfortunate hit at the end but that’s why you’re teammates are here and he figured out that you need all nine, ten guys to win these games,” Grove said.
Kolton Stefanko did as he was asked and got the Eagles out of the fifth with a strikeout of Wyatt Levie that set the stage for the most important half-inning of the game. Ein Wolfe led off the top of the sixth with a walk but was erased moments later when Chancey induced an around-the-horn double play to record the innings first to outs.
The momentum appeared firmly in Musselman’s control but a bobbled infield popup hit by Cash Dunham gave Hedgesville a narrow crack in the door to see through.
It did not take long for the Eagles to come bursting through it.
Pedersen followed the error by driving in Dunham with a double and was then joined on base by Trenton Knieriem and Manor who reached via an infield single and a walk respectively.
The walk issued to Manor was enough to send Chancey to the dugout with McClintock coming in from left field to take over on the mound. As the Applemen sought to hold the lead and record the final out, Brown delivered the biggest swing of the night instead.
His line drive back up the middle sent Pedersen and Knieriem sprinting home while Musselman center fielder Kyle Lore over ran the ball, allowing Manor to wheel around all the way from first to score the go-ahead run.
“For four innings the offense was bad but when you just hang in there and give yourself a chance and the belief kicks in, that’s the point we got to where we finally executed in a big spot,” Grove said.
With his team in front for the first time, Stefanko saw little difficulty in keeping it the way, retiring six of the final seven Applemen batters he faced to secure the win for Hedgesville.
While frustrations at the plate may have come in the regular season for his team, Grove believes it was overcoming those moments of struggle that set up for a comeback performance like this.
“It’s hard because it’s been a frustrating year but all that stuff is relevant when you’ve got one chance to do it,” he said, “It’s double elimination. You lose one and you’re playing your last game potentially and that’s when you need the guys that don’t this to be their last game to step up and do it and that’s what it ultimately came down to.”
Thanks to the come from behind win, the third-seeded Eagles advance to the winner’s bracket of the double elimination sectional tournament and will face #1 Martinsburg on Wednesday. Hedgesville delivered one to the Bulldogs one of just two losses on the season by a final score of 8-4 on April 19.
Musselman hosts an elimination game Wednesday against Spring Mills.