By Steve Keenan
Valley came tantalizingly close to its first-ever state baseball tournament win.
Instead, Charleston Catholic’s Connor Golden’s walk-off RBI single over a drawn-in Greyhound infield in the bottom of the seventh inning handed the Irish (28-9) a 6-5 triumph and a berth in Saturday’s Class A state championship game against Magnolia (31-4), which defeated Notre Dame 4-3 in the other semifinal. The Irish went on to defeat Magnolia 9-8 for their first state title.
The thrilling semifinal win at Appalachian Power Park meant great things for the Irish, but it sent Valley (23-8) to its third straight semifinal loss.
The closeness of the contest made it an especially difficult setback to handle, an emotional Valley coach Joe Craffey said afterwards.
“This is a lot tougher (than first-round losses in 2011 and 2012),” he said. “Offensively or defensively, we didn’t make the plays that would have gotten us over the hump.”
With the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the seventh frame, Golden’s game-winner brought home Thad Jameson, who had singled down the third-base line to start the inning.
Ahead of the crucial bottom of the seventh, Valley dug down and got back into contention in the top half of the frame. Trailing 5-3, the Greyhounds’ John Riddle scored on an RBI single by Raeshawn Breckenridge to make it 5-4. The ‘Hounds then knotted the score at 5-5 when catcher Cody Winter (2-for-3) belted a single into the gap in center field, scoring Breckenridge.
On that play, Arik McGinnis — who had been intentionally walked — was tagged out at the plate for the third out by Catholic catcher Drew Cable. Valley’s Todd Coleman — who reached on a single — had also been ruled out in a collision with Cable at home earlier in the inning.
“Our guys showed some true grit,” said Craffey. “They very easily could have thrown in the towel down two and them throwing their best two pitchers.”
He felt the aggressive base running in the latter stages was necessary. “I thought we tried to make something happen,” Craffey said.
Drew Jones got Valley off to a good start with a lead-off double into right field in the top of the first. He later scored on a McGinnis sacrifice.
Catholic evened the score at 1-all in the bottom of the first, then the Irish plated three runs in the third for a 4-1 margin.
Valley crept to within 4-3 in the fourth when Riddle’s single to center knocked in a pair of runs.
The Irish moved into a 5-3 lead in the bottom of the same inning on a Sam McKown RBI.
When discussing quality programs around the state, Craffey said he feels the Greyhounds are in the mix. “I’d like to think we’re up there.”
But, they’ll have to regroup and try to maintain the level of success next year after losing seniors McGinnis, Winter, Coleman, Jones and Mark Hess to graduation.
“That’s five quality ballplayers we’re going to lose,” Craffey said.
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V 100 200 2 -- 5 7 3
CC 103 100 1 -- 6 9 2
V: Arik McGinnis and Cody Winter. CC: Andy Hoyer, Kiefer Hovorka (7) and Drew Cable. WP - Hovorka (7-4). LP - McGinnis (4-4). Hitting - V: Winter 2-3 (rbi), John Riddle 1-2 (2 rbi), Drew Jones 1-3 (2b). CC: Connor Golden 2-3 (rbi), Nelson McKown 2-4, Sam McKown (2 rbi).