CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The game time temperatures were in the low 90s, but that wasn’t the heat that gave the Hillbillies trouble.
Junior starter Philip Hoffman struck out 18 and retired the final 18 batters that Man sent to the plate Friday afternoon during a 3-0 Wahama victory in a Class A semifinal baseball contest at Appalachian Power Park in Kanawha County.
Hoffman surrendered a triple in the first inning and a leadoff single in the second frame, then the right-hander proceeded to sit the next 18 Hillbillies (12-18) down while racking up the strikeout total.
Hoffman — who struck out the side in the first, second, fifth and seventh frames — recorded at least two strikeouts in each of his seven innings on the mound.
Hoffman — who also served as the winning hurler in last year’s state semifinal victory over Bishop Donahue — spoke afterwards about his sizzling performance.
“It feels just as good today as it did last year, but we still have one more game to win before we can celebrate,” Hoffman said. “I found a pretty good rhythm today, but my defense would have had my back if things wouldn’t have gone so well on the mound. I’m just glad that we’re back in a state final. This is what we’ve worked so hard for all year.”
While limiting Man to only two baserunners in the contest, the White Falcons (21-11) produced at least one hit in every inning except the fourth — which ended up serving as a precursor of better things ahead.
Scoreless through four complete, WHS started its rally bid with one out in the fifth when nine-hole hitter Ricky Kearns legged out an infield single.
Colton Arrington followed by laying down a sacrifice fly bunt, but the relay throw to first pulled the first baseman off the bag — giving Wahama runners at first and second with one away.
Jared Nutter followed by laying down another sacrifice bunt that went to the pitcher, but Man was late in getting a defender to first base for the relay throw.
MHS pitcher Jake Adkins went ahead and threw the ball to first with a defender approaching the bag, but the ball deflected off of the second baseman’s glove and rolled into right field.
Both Kearns and Arrington ended up scoring on the throwing error, giving the Red and White a 2-0 cushion midway through the fifth.
Wahama gave Hoffman some extra wiggle room in the fifth as Tyler Grimm led the frame off with a double, then Wyatt Edwards entered in as a courtesy runner.
Edwards advanced to third on an error that allowed Mason Hicks to reached safely, then Jared Oliver lifted a fly ball to left field that Nick Collins made a diving catch on.
Edwards ended up tagging up and scoring on the play, giving Wahama a 3-0 cushion midway through five.
Five of Man’s final six outs came by strikeouts, with the lone exception being a one-out flyout to centerfield in the sixth.
Wahama outhit the hosts by an 8-2 overall margin and committed none of the two errors in the contest. The White Falcons stranded four runners on the bags, while Man left two on the bases.
Afterwards, WHS coach Tom Cullen noted that it wasn’t a perfect performance by his troops — but he also quickly pointed out that the White Falcons will have another chance Saturday to improve on some things.
“I’d like for us to hit the ball a little better, but it was all around a pretty good day for us,” Cullen said. “We knew we were going to have to start trying to manufacture some runs by making them make plays. Luckily, that ended up working out for us pretty well.
“You know, when Philip is in a groove like he was today … one run becomes very big. Credit Man and their starter because he threw a heck of a game, but Philip just happened to be a little bit better.”
Hoffman was the winning pitcher of record after allowing only two hits while striking out 18. Adkins took the tough-luck loss after surrendering three runs (one earned), eight hits and one walk over seven frames while fanning nine.
Arrington and Nutter led the guests with two hits apiece, followed by Hoffman, Grimm, Ricky Kearns and Dalton Kearns with a safety apiece.
Arrington, Edwards and Ricky Kearns each scored a run apiece in the triumph, with Oliver providing the White Falcons’ only RBI.
Tyler Blair and Kenny Jo Adkins had the lone hits for the Hillbillies.
The White Falcons — who have now won seven straight state tournament games — will be appearing in the program’s sixth state final in school history. Wahama won titles in 1996, 1998 and 2015, and also lost in the state finals in both 1978 and 1988.
Wahama will face Wheeling Central in the Class A final Saturday afternoon, with a start time tentatively scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Power Park.
The Maroon Knights (18-9) trailed 7-1 midway through the third and were down again by a 9-3 margin through five and a half frames, but Wheeling Central scored the seven unanswered runs — including five in the bottom of the seventh — to rally back for a 10-9 win over Pendleton County in the other Class A semifinal.
The Maroon Knights will be aiming for their seventh state title, and first since 2011. The White Falcons are gunning for their fourth state title and first repeat championship in program history.
“We need seven more good innings from our guys tomorrow, but I do like our chances. After all, you have to be in the state final to win a state championship,” Cullen said. “It does help that we have been here and done this before.”
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.
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