Cougars move to Regional finals vs. Elkins
It wasn’t really much of a bad inning for Jefferson left-handed pitcher Austin Cross. He walked the first Spring Mills batter and later ceded the Cardinals a run when Cody Hammond singled sharply. But the Cougars were behind by a run when they batted in the bottom of the first.
Not much later a walk gleaned by leadoff man Cameron Alvarez, his stolen base, Austin Bulman’s first of three hits and Charlie Barnholt’s first of two RBIs and it was a 1-1 game.
Even though the Cougars left the bases loaded in their opening inning, they had tied the game against right-hander Wyatt Stuckey, who had lost 2-0 and 2-1 decisions to Jefferson the last two times he faced the team.
Cross almost completely baffled the Cardinals in his next six innings of work — limiting them to two harmless singles and finishing Jefferson’s 4-1 win the Class AAA, Region II semifinal game with eight strikeouts.
With the victory that sent their overall record to 32-3, the Cougars traveled west to Elkins to face the Tigers in the Regional championship game on Wednesday.
Spring Mills, which lost to Jefferson in the 2015 Regional semifinal although Stuckey allowed only the two runs that were enough for the Cougars’ 2-0 win en route to the state championship about a week later.
After the bumpy first inning, Cross actually allowed only five more base runners — one on an infield error and one on an intentional walk to Hammond, which was followed by an inning-ending line out by Bryant Scheuch.
Cross ended his win with a flourish, striking out two batters in both the sixth and seventh.
After the top of the batting order had scored against Stuckey in the first, basically the same men did the same things in a two-run third.
Bulman shot a double to the fence in left-center, and Barnholt did the same to get the Cougars a 2-1 lead.
Barnholt was on third after the inning’s second passed ball against catcher Ben Wright. Spring Mills drew its infield in — knowing full well another run for Cross would be significant. Alex Tennant grounded a single past the drawn-in shortstop . . . and the Jefferson lead against Stuckey was 3-1.
The next inning brought a 4-1 lead when Paul Witt’s two-out single and his stolen bases preceded Bulman’s sharp single on the ground to right.
Stuckey silenced the bottom three in the Jefferson batting order in the last innings, leaving that group with an 0-for-9 evening against him.
In the other Regional semifinal, Elkins mauled Buckhannon, 11-1, to set up Wednesday’s pairing for one of the four berths in the Charleston-based state tournament.
In its final regular season game of 2016, the Cougars saw their long winning streak abruptly end when Mercersburg Academy outpitched them and left Sager Field with a 6-1 win. Of Jefferson’s three losses, two were inflicted by Mercersburg Academy.
The woes of the bottom of the Jefferson lineup were again on full display as Blue Storm pitchers Jake Rist (three innings) and Mike Hearon (four innings) owned the same last three batters in the order that failed to scratch against Stuckey. That threesome plus another man who hit into a double play had another dismal 0-for-9 game as a group.
In getting work for his pitchers, Coach John Lowery saw Dylan Carroll retire the nine men he faced . . . but also saw an error open the scoring door when Bulman faced four hitters and Jordan Beans yielded a two-run double to the first Blue Storm hitter he saw.
Beans struggled through three more innings, allowing a total of seven hits and four runs charged to him.
Jefferson had only four hits with Witt going 2-for-2 before getting hit on the hand by a Hearon pitch.
Jefferson’s chances have ridden on the so-far broad shoulders of its pitchers and the head-of-the-order production of Witt, Bulman, Barnholt, Alvarez and Cross . . . and any further advancement along the tournament trail is likely to be a carbon copy of the regular season.