By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
The hitting was on display from the outset. The pitching was as clutch as it has been all week. And the defense shone, despite two inconsequential plays in the ninth inning that were easily laughed off.
It all added up to the same result as two years ago, only with much more historical significance.
Concord scored in all but two innings and Chris Baker turned in a stellar relief performance in an 11-4 win over West Virginia State for its second West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference baseball championship in three seasons Saturday at Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium.
The Mountain Lions (36-18) will go down as the final WVIAC baseball champions ever. The member schools will disband and form the Mountain East Conference to begin competition in August.
“The first time I met coach Wright, he said that we bring home championships,” Baker said. “That’s what it’s all about. Why else do you play the game?”
Concord, which set a team record for wins in a season, has won five WVIAC titles. The others came in 2011, 2001, 1961 and 1954.
Two years ago, the Mountain Lions won their first league title in 10 years, beating the same opponent on the same field. They are 8-0 in the postseason at Epling Stadium.
“I don’t know, but I love playing here,” Concord coach Andrew Wright said, a moment after taking the customary ice water bath from his players. “It’s a place where we can certainly play good, clean baseball. You’re going to get true hops. The playing surface is a great equalizer. It allows us to just go out and make plays.”
They did just that against the Yellow Jackets, in all facets of the game.
The No. 1 offense in the league wasted no time in taking control. Concord scored three runs in the first inning and two in the second.
State starter Michael McClain was smacked around in the first inning. He gave up doubles to Devin Smith and Joey Miller, a comebacker single to Josh Wenger and a sac fly by Jacob Mays, and every ball was hit hard.
After Jerrod Groves flied out to start the second, McClain allowed a single to T.J. Brockway and a run-scoring double to Andrew Seigel before being lifted by veteran coach Cal Bailey.
Meanwhile, Smith was in control from the mound through the first three innings. Joshua Kiser’s two-out single in the third was State’s first hit of the day.
The Jackets (30-18) finally broke through in the fourth when Andrew Pickering led off with a double. Two outs later, Garret Kiser’s double drove in Pickering to make it 5-1.
Kiser’s double didn’t travel far: Concord shortstop Josh Wenger stumbled and fell as he was attempting to catch the shallow fly ball. Kiser was running full steam with two outs and got to second base.
Concord answered — as it did all day — scoring a run in the bottom half on Ryan Johnston’s RBI single.
State got three in fifth off Smith, who was chased after 4 2/3 innings. He was hit in the upper body by a line drive from Cody Smith, the second batter of the inning, but stayed in the game to face four more batters. He was lifeted after walking Tyler Payne with two out.
Baker relieved and immediately gave up a RBI double to Jack Hudson that made the score 6-4.
Thanks to Baker and Concord’s continued offensive attack, that was as close as the Jackets would get.
Baker (8-1) scattered five hits over the next four innings but did not allow a run. He struck out one and did not walk a batter over 4 1/3 innings.
“He did an outstanding job,” Wright said while holding his daughter, Alex. “We were just waiting for a good opportunity to use him, because we got three very good starts this weekend. It was kind of uncharacteristic of where our pitching staff has been going. We had to rely on Chris so much (in the regular season). Fortunately we put ourselves in position to do that.”
“I’m always confident with this defense behind me,” said Baker, a transfer from Frederick Community College. “There’s nobody better than them.”
Concord was able to respond every time State threatened. Seigel’s opposite-field single through the hole at shortstop drove in Bret Blevins and Groves to put the Lions up 8-4.
They added a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth.
“They answered every call,” Bailey said. “There’s not much you can do about that. They got good wood on the ball and didn’t strike out much. It was a combination of his (Baker’s) stuff and us trying to do too much, trying to hit five-run home runs and that sort of thing.”
The game got interesting — if not a bit comical — in the ninth.
With two out, Payne hit a ground ball to short. Groves made the throw, but the ball popped out of first baseman Miller’s glove for an error. Concord players who had emerged from the dugout for a celebration had to turn around and go back.
Hudson then hit a fly ball to shallow left center that Seigel also could not squeeze for another error.
The drama finally ended when Garret Kiser flied out to Seigel to end the game. This time, the celebration was for real, with Baker getting mobbed just shy of home plate, to the first base side.
Concord earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, with selections being announced Sunday, May 12.
“We have to focus on not letting there be a lull,” Wright said. “When you expect to win and do everything you are supposed to, you’re going to prepare that way. We’re four games away from getting to Cary, N.C. (for the Division II championships). That has been our goal since day one.”
— E-mail: gfauber@
WVS: 000 130 000 — 4 11 2
CU: 320 121 20x — 11 14 3
WVS: Michael McClain, Joseph Beane (2), Caleb Toparis (5), Jordan Butcher (6), Joshua Falbo (7) and Tyler Payne, CU: Devin Smith, Chris Baker (5) and T.J. Brockway, Brandon Costa (6). WP — Baker. LP — McClain. Hitting — WVS: Billy Smith (rbi), Andrew Pickering 1-4 (2b, rbi), Payne 1-4, Jack Hudson 1-5 (2b, rbi), Garret Kiser 1-4 (2b, rbi), Eric Craft 3-4 (2b), Cody Smith 3-4 (2b), Joshua Kiser 1-3, CU: Andrew Seigel 3-4 (2b, 3 rbi), Smith 3-4 (2b, rbi), Jacob Mays 1-4 (2 rbi), Ryan Johnston 2-5 (rbi), Joey Miller 2-5 (2b, 2 rbi), Josh Wenger 1-5 (rbi), Bret Blevins 1-4 (rbi), Brockway 1-2, Costa (rbi).
Records: WVS: 30-18; CU: 36-18.