Brian Sexton wasn’t the least bit happy with the way he hit the ball. He’ll gladly take the result.
Sexton beat out the throw to first after hitting a high chopper to third, driving in Logan Smith with two out in the eighth inning to help Independence beat PikeView 4-3 for the Class AA Region 3 championship and earn its first state tournament berth since 2009.
“This has been my goal the last three years since I went into the public school system,” said senior second baseman Drew D’Angelo, who played at Mountain State Academy as a freshman. “This is what we worked for the whole season, the whole team. We just worked so hard.”
The game was picked up tied 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth after getting delayed by rain Thursday. Independence had runners on first and third with nobody out against PikeView ace Kevin Cottle, who returned to the mound for the completion.
Cottle was in control Friday, pitching out of the jam he created the night before and then dominating the sixth and seventh innings.
Then came Sexton’s game-winner — preceded by controversy.
Andrue Hughart led off the eighth with an infield single. Smith, the courtesy runner, advanced to second on Jeremy McGinnis’ sacrifice bunt.
Brad Huffman then flied out to left and Smith tagged up and went to third.
PikeView appealed, arguing that Smith left early, but the umpires did not agree and Smith stayed at third.
Sexton fell behind 0-2 to Cottle before bouncing a shot to third. PikeView’s Jon Clark made a nice play to field the ball and fired to first, but the throw was not in time.
As Smith crossed home, Sexton immediately celebrated with first base coach Chris Walls and was soon mobbed by his teammates as they ran in from the third base dugout.
“It was a crappy hit, but it was the greatest feeling in the world,” Sexton said. “Ugliest hit I ever got, but it was the best hit I ever got.”
“He just put it in play,” first-year Patriots coach Scott Cuthbert said. “Good things happen when you put it in play.”
The previous play was a popular topic after the game.
“To be honest, I didn’t even watch it,” Cuthbert said. “I didn’t even see the tag, because I was watching the catch. It is what it is, I guess. You’ve got to try to live through those things. It happens. It could have happened to us.”
PikeView coach Josh Wyatt hated to see such a competitive and important game come down to such a play.
“I was immediately out here (to appeal), because I felt like it was blatantly obvious,” Wyatt said. “That’s a game-changer. But that group over there deserves everything they have worked for. They are a phenomenal ballclub.”
The loss ended what was an otherwise nice performance by Cottle (9-3). The senior right-hander finished with six strikeouts and two walks while allowing nine hits over 7 2-3 innings.
When the game resumed Friday, Cottle walked Hughart to load the bases with nobody out. But he struck out Jeremy McGinnis, then got Brad Huffman to ground into a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
Cottle allowed an infield single to Sexton to start the sixth, but he got back-to-back strikeouts before picking off Sexton.
“He’s a good pitcher,” D’Angelo said of Cottle. “He has very good location and he gets his curveball over for strikes. He’s one of the best we have faced.”
“If there’s a first-team all-state pitcher in West Virginia, I believe that’s one right there,” Wyatt said.
Of course, Hughart didn’t do badly for himself, either.
The sophomore came on in relief of McGinnis, who started Thursday and threw 75 pitches in five innings. Hughart (5-3) was nearly perfect — Carter Shrewsbury was the only PikeView batter to reach base off Hughart when he walked with two out in the seventh.
Hughart struck out four of the 10 batters he faced.
“He (McGinnis) said he felt fine, but I didn’t want to do anything to hurt anybody,” Cuthbert said. “Plus, we talked all year we had a deep staff, so I was comfortable with Andrue going out there.”
The Patriots will take on Herbert Hoover at about 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the state semifinals at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park. The Huskies, who defeated Wayne 4-2 Friday in the Region 4 title game, lost 1-0 to Wyoming East in last year’s state championship game.
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PV: 030 000 00 — 3 5 0
I: 111 000 01 — 4 9 1
PV: Kevin Cottle and Hunter Moses, I: Jeremy McGinnis, Andrue Hughart (6) and Ryan Brandstetter, McGinnis (6). WP — Hughart. LP — Cottle. Hitting — PV: Hunter Moses 2-4, Cottle 1-3, Jon Clark (rbi, run), Carter Shrewsbury 1-2 (2b, rbi), Keian Lee 1-3 (rbi), I: Drew D’Angelo 1-3 (2b), Wyatt Adkins 2-4, Hughart 2-2 (rb), Brad Huffman (rbi), Brandstetter 1-2 (rbi).
Records: PV: 24-10; I: 19-8.