It wasn’t pretty, but it was historic: Riverside is heading to the state baseball tournament.
In their third regional final in a row, the Warriors finally broke through Thursday with a 9-4 win over Greenbrier East in the Class AAA Region 3 final at Eric J. Smith Field. That earned Riverside its first state tournament berth in its 15 years of existence.
Riverside (19-10) rode its second strong pitching performance in as many days, as Brady Wilkinson struck out 10 and stranded 12 Spartan runners. That came on the heels of Cameron Norris’ 1-0 shutout win Wednesday over George Washington.
As has been his habit, Wilkinson got stronger as the game went on. He walked the first two batters to begin the fifth and faced runners on second and third in the sixth, but got out of those jams easily. Six strikeouts in the last three innings will do that.
“I always get stronger toward the end of the game,” said Wilkinson, a junior. “Every time we get more runs, that just gets me going.”
To say the Warriors walked over the Spartans would be correct, in a very literal sense. Riverside scored their nine roles on only three hits, enjoying a hitless three-run first and a hitless two-run fifth.
The main contributor was the 12 walks issued by the Spartans (17-8). Half of those came from starter Frank Ford, who walked six and committed two balks in eight batters.
The Warriors also stole eight bases and benefited from two errors and a hit-by-pitch. And just to make the game a little stranger, Trevor Smith scored on a two-base wild pitch and he and Norris pulled off unusual double steal.
After a number of one-run victories, the Warriors were almost relieved to win by five.
The Spartans (17-8) began the scoring in the first when Colby Johnson singles and Daylon Colley doubled him in. Ethan Boone singled in Colley for a 2-0 lead.
Riverside took a 3-2 with its hitless first, with Wilkerson contributing the first of his two sacrifice flies.
The Warriors took a 4-2 lead when Smith advanced from second on a wild pitch.
Smith also figured in the odd start to the three-run fourth.
Greenbrier East had tied the game at 4 in the top of the inning on RBI singles by Jonathan Carr and Colley.
In the bottom half, Smith singled and stole second, and went to third when Norris reached on an error on a grounder to second. Then Colley, who relieved Spartan starter Ford, tried the fake-to-third, throw-to-first play, which appeared to work.
Except that Norris beat the hurried throw. As that happened, Smith stole home, his fourth steal of the game, for a 5-4 lead. Chaz Davis doubled in a run and Wilkerson made it 7-4 with his second sacrifice fly.
The Warriors pretty much put the game away when Smith hit a sacrifice fly — this one caught by the shortstop in shallow right-center field — and Derik Chestnut scored on a wild pitch.
From there, Wilkinson closed out the Spartans on a field remarkably playable, given the circumstances. The Quincy area was spared by the long-term rain that enveloped much of Kanawha County, but was hit by a small, intense storm at about 5 p.m. The game was delayed 1 hour, 5 minutes.
The Spartans were proud of their run to the regional final, but shaking their heads over how it ended.
“Walks killed us,” said Spartans coach Scott Vogelsong. “I don’t know how many runners we left on base. We had unearned runs. I don’t know if we outhit them or not, but we did not play the brand of baseball we’ve been playing all year long.”
Greenbrier East 200 200 0 —4 9 2
Riverside 310 320 x —9 3 2
Ford, Colley (1), Canterbury (5) and Solak; Wilkinson and Massey. Top hitters —
GE: Colley 2-3, 2 doubles, 2 RBIs. Riverside: Smith 2-2, RBI, 4 SB; Davis 1-1,
double, 3 walks, RBI; Wilkinson 2 RBIs; Phalen 3 walks, RBI