By Steve Keenan
For The Register-Herald
Valley’s potent offense never came to life, but the Greyhounds are still alive.
Valley (22-7) — with several players hitting .400 or better this season — could muster just three singles against underdog Man (6-20-1) in one of two Class A Region 3 baseball semifinals Tuesday, but the ’Hounds manufactured two runs in the crucial fifth inning to finally go ahead of the stubborn Hillbillies and escape with a 3-2 victory.
“That’s the thing about baseball,” said Valley coach Joe Craffey, whose team was No. 6 in The Charleston Gazette’s most recent statewide rankings. “You can throw the records out (when tournaments start).
“We told the players all week that they can’t rest on their laurels. It (the lack of offensive production) concerns me at this point. We didn’t have one run batted in. If we can’t hit the ball, we’re not going far.”
Trailing 1-0, Man pushed across single runs in the second and third innings (the first coming on an RBI single from Neil Mullins and the second on a run-scoring double by Cayce Mullins), and the visitors — with left-handed pitcher Braden Griffin keeping Valley largely in check — made the 2-1 margin stand up until the bottom of the fifth.
That’s when the Greyhounds started relying more on the basepaths than the bats.
Drew Jones started the bottom of the fifth with a bunt single. He advanced to second on a passed ball, stole third and later crossed home plate on another passed ball, knotting the game at 2-2. Fellow senior Arik McGinnis, who reached on a walk, stole second to get into scoring position. Druw Bowen launched a long fly ball to deep centerfield, and the Hillbillies attempted to get courtesy runner Kyler Smith at second base for the third out. They were unsuccessful, and McGinnis — who had tagged and moved to third — sprinted home for the go-ahead run.
“Coach Craffey just gave me the call, and I did what I’m supposed to,” said Jones. “He’s got faith in me.
“That (inning) got us the momentum. We didn’t hit the ball as well as we normally do, but we played small ball well and played defense behind our pitchers.”
Jones had staked Valley to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when he drew a walk, took second on a throwing error on a pick-off attempt, stole third and scored when — after the steal — a routine relay back to the mound went over Griffin’s head.
“They scored that first run without a hit,” lamented Man coach Larry Vance. “And the last runs, they kind of forced the issue.
“We had only two seniors, but we had 6-7 guys that just the experience (will help moving ahead),” added Vance. “The next three to four years we should be pretty solid.”
Bowen, Valley’s starting pitcher, went just one inning on the mound — facing five Man batters and yielding two singles — before being pulled due to elbow trouble after he tried to warm up for the second.
Playing at shortstop as the game wound down, Bowen made a nice diving knockdown of a hard-hit Cody Carter line drive and tossed the ball to Jones for the game’s final out.
In relief of Bowen, starting catcher Cody Winter shed his protective gear and took the mound for the ‘Hounds for innings 2-6. He struggled a little in the early going before settling down and keeping Man in check, including making two nice hustle plays in the infield.
“Give Cody a lot of credit,” said Craffey. “He gave us four good innings.
“He got better as the game wore on. And he had no idea when he came to the park that he would be pitching.”
“Our approach at the plate tonight was awful,” said Winter. “We strung together a couple of hits. This keeps us alive.
“It took me a couple of innings to warm up after catching, but I just got in a groove,” he added.
McGinnis, who will start the Region 3 final, pitched the final two innings to earn the save.
“Toward the end we finally caught on and got in a groove,” he said. “Cody started us off good, and I told Coach I was ready whenever he needed me.
“We just have to go out Thursday and hit the ball.”
Valley plays at Fayetteville Thursday with a state tournament berth on the line. The Greyhounds will be in search of their third straight state tourney berth, while the Pirates will be seeking to return to Charleston for the first time since 2010.
In the lone regular season meeting this season, Valley beat Fayetteville 10-0 on April 11.
— E-mail: skeenan
M: 011 000 0 — 2 5 1
V: 100 020 x — 3 3 1
M: Braden Griffin, Cody Carter (6) and Cayce Mullins, V: Druw Bowen, Cody Winter (2), Arik McGinnis (6) and Cody Winter, John Riddle (2) and Winter (6). WP — Winter. LP — Griffin. Save - McGinnis. Hitting — M: Cayce Mullins 1-3 (2b, rbi), Neil Mullins 1-3 (rbi), Carter 1-2, Noah Maynard 1-3, John Keffer 1-4, V: Todd Coleman 2-3, Drew Jones 1-2
Records: M: 6-20-1; V: 22-7.