By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Hunter Greco will walk into the halls of Woodrow Wilson High School this morning for the final time. He’ll walk past his locker and the classroom of his favorite teacher. He’ll sit at the table where he’s had lunch with his best friends. He’ll do it all as a winner.
Greco pitched a nearly flawless game Thursday night, giving up one run on five hits and striking out 11 Riverside Warriors as the Flying Eagles won 7-1 for the Region 3 championship.
“It’s amazing,” Greco said. “It’s just great. It’s a blessing to be able to play four years at Woodrow and my senior year... I’m going out with a bang.”
Greco and the rest of his Flying Eagle teammates will move on to next week’s state championship in Charleston. It will be Beckley’s first trip since 2007.
Even though Greco had command on the mound, he’s not willing to take credit for the victory.
“We won it as a team,” he said. “We won Tuesday as a team. We had a great record as a team. Now we’re going to go to the state tournament and win it as a team.”
It was Greco’s teammate, Logan Wriston, who opened up the lead for the Flying Eagles in the third inning.
With Jacoby Webb on third base, Greco was coming up to bat. Riverside coach Chris Hawkins decided to intentionally walk the senior slugger, bringing Wriston up to bat.
“We had Greco scouted pretty well,” Hawkins said. “We hadn’t got him out in the two games we played against them earlier this year. Wriston only had one hit against us.”
Wriston now has two hits against them.
The junior hit an outside curveball from Cam Norris 345 feet to left-centerfield, over the fence for his first home run of the season, giving Beckley a 3-0 lead.
“I just swung and hit the ball,” Logan said. “I just had to clear my mind and focus on the pitch.”
“I knew he was going to do it,” Greco added. “He always does it. He always comes through in situations like that. He’s pretty much our go-to guy.”
In the very next inning, Beckley added three more runs to put the game out of reach. First, Webb knocked home Hunter Halstead on a double, and then the Flying Eagles pulled off one of the most difficult plays in baseball -— the suicide squeeze.
It’s been 109 years since Dutch Carter and George B. Case first invented the play in a game between Yale and Princeton. They’d sure be proud of the way the Flying Eagles pulled it off.
With Dakota Bowyer standing on third base, catcher Daniel Rose put down a bunt just a few feet in front of home plate. By the time Riverside’s Trevor Rumberg was able to dig the ball out, Bowyer was already home.
It worked so well for Woodrow skipper Mark Daniel that he did it a second time -- on the very next pitch.
Senior designated-hitter Cole Williams laid down a bunt that left Norris scrambling, easily bringing Webb home.
It’s a trick that’s been up Daniel’s sleeve all season.
“The opportunity didn’t arrive for us to use it any this year,” he said. “The traction wasn’t great. We knew the bunt would go 8 or 10 feet and stop and kill, and it did. It worked out real well for us.”
A lot of things have been working well for Daniel. After starting the season 0-4, with their first 13 games on the road, the Flying Eagles have improved to 20-10 and are one of the hottest teams in the state.
“It feels good getting back to Charleston,” Daniel said. “We told our kids not to panic after the 0-4 start. We knew we had the talent to get here. That’s the goal every year for every team is to get to Charleston.”
The Flying Eagles aren’t a team that’s going to pound out hits. They rely mostly on solid pitching from a trio of arms and great defense.
“We’re really comfortable with Hunter, Josh Rakes and Brandon Chandler,” Daniel said. “We’re confident in all three of them, because the defense is so solid. They’re three pitchers who throw strikes.”
But even though his team was celebrating with the regional trophy, it’s business as usual for the no-nonsense coach.
“We’re going to take (today) off,” Daniel said. “Then it’s back to the grind. Working on pitching and hitting and fielding and bunting.”
The Flying Eagles will play Cabell Midland next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.
Woodrow Wilson 7, Riverside 1
R: 000 000 1 — 1 5 2
WW: 003 310 x — 7 5 2
R: Cam Norris, Justin Conley (5) and Trevor Rumberg, WW: Hunter Greco and Daniel Rose. WP — Greco. LP — Norris. Hitting — R: Derik Chestnut 1-4, Brandon Hancock 1-3, Brady Wilkinson 1-3, Chaz Davis 2-3 (Run), WW: Cole Williams 1-4 (RBI), Hunter Greco 1-3 (Run), Logan Wriston 1-3 (HR, 3 RBI), Jacoby Webb 1-3 (RBI), Daniel Rose 1-2 (RBI).