CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some things are worth the wait.
In a baseball game that technically lasted more than seven hours from warm-ups to finish, Wahama managed to secure the program’s fourth state championship Saturday following an inspired 5-4 victory over Wheeling Central Catholic in the 2016 Class A final at Appalachian Power Park in Kanawha County.
The White Falcons (22-11) overcame every drop of adversity throw their way, which included a pair of lightning-filled downpours and a three-run deficit through four innings of play.
WHS, however, managed to plate two runs in the top of the fifth to close to within a run (4-3) before the second rain storm postponed things with one out in the home half of the fifth.
When the Maroon Knights (18-10) returned to the plate following a two-hour delay, they never produced another baserunner as Wahama starter Mason Hicks found his second wind as the senior recorded half of his six strikeouts while retiring the final 10 batters he faced.
Then in the top half of the sixth, the White Falcons made a charge for the history books as Philip Hoffman started the inning with a leadoff single to left.
Hoffman advanced to second on a bobbled third strike, then the junior moved over to third on a two-out error that allowed Jared Oliver to reach safely — giving the guests a pair of runners on the corners.
With seven-hole hitter Dalton Kearns headed to the plate, Oliver intentionally got caught up in a rundown between first and second.
As Wheeling Central reliever Tyler Riedel stepped off the mound and threw to second, Hoffman took off in a full sprint for home. The relay throw home was wide of its target, allowing Hoffman’s head-first slide to tie the game at four.
As the dust settled, Oliver had moved over to third and Kearns finally got his chance at the plate. The sophomore responded with the game-winning RBI after belting a single to the left field gap to plate Oliver, making it a 5-4 contest midway through the sixth.
Neither squad produced a hit over the next inning and a half, with Wheeling Central’s final chance coming up short as Anthony Gentile grounded into a 5-3 putout. WHS senior Ryan Thomas’ throw to classmate Tyler Grimm was on target — allowing the Red and White to begin their triumphant celebration.
Wahama — which also won the 2015 Class A championship — earned the school’s first ever back-to-back state titles in any sport. The White Falcons also won the 1996 and 1998 Class A crowns in baseball.
After a thrilling end to an emotional 2016 campaign, WHS coach Tom Cullen just spoke about the joy — and the relief — of winding up back on top of the Class A mountain.
“This is a big thing for the people in the Bend Area,” Cullen said. “We have great support throughout the season and our fans really love these kids, watching this team play. In turn, these kids really love playing and representing this community.
“I love them and I’m proud of them for what they endured today to win. These kids have been through a lot of tests since winning state last year. They talked at the beginning of the year about leaving their mark, their legacy. Now they have accomplished their goal.”
Both teams had finished infield practice and were prepared to take the field at 1:30 p.m., but a weather bulletin was issued that called for strong winds, possible hail, heavy rain and lightning within the next 30 minutes. Officials decided to delay the start due to the threat and called for the infield tarp to be rolled out.
After the rains stopped and the field was deemed playable over three hours later, the official first pitch of the Class A title game came at 4:45 p.m. Neither team scored in the opening frame.
Wahama struck first blood in the top of the second as Tyler Grimm led things off with a single to left, then David Hendrick entered as a courtesy runner.
Hendrick advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Hicks, then Dalton Kearns delivered a two-out double to left that plated Hendrick — making it a 1-0 contest.
The Maroon Knights answered in the home half of the third as Kevin Keane and Isaac Rine received back-to-back leadoff walks, then Gentile added a one-out single that loaded the bases.
Hicks uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Keane to score as both Rine and Gentile moved up a base, making it a one-all contest.
Wahama, however, dodged a bullet as Hoffman made a sensational grab at shortstop on a line drive off the bat of Brian Campbell. Hoffman got up and quickly fired back to second baseman Dalton Kearns to double-up Gentile while also ending the threat.
Wheeling Central, however, struck a big blow in the bottom of the fourth as Zach McAbee delivered a one-out single, then Deevon Standwich entered as a courtesy runner.
Standwich advanced to second on a single by Patrick Brown, then both runners moved up a base on a passed ball. Keane followed with a two-out single that plated Standwich, giving the hosts a 2-1 advantage.
Rine followed with an RBI single that allowed Brown to score as Keane also advanced to third. Keane later scored on a balk after initially trying to steal home, giving WCCHS a sizable 4-1 edge through four complete.
The White Falcons responded in the top of the fifth as Oliver led the frame off with a single, then Ricky Kearns legged out an infield hit — putting runners at first and second with two away.
Colton Arrington followed with a full count double to the left-center field gap, allowing both Oliver and Kearns to score as the guests cut the deficit down to a run at 4-3.
The second weather-related postponement occurred just before 6 p.m., and play ultimately resumed just minutes before 8 p.m. Overall, the actual duration of the seven-inning affair lasted only 1:48.
Hicks — who was the winning pitcher for a second straight year in the Class A title game — surrendered four earned runs, seven hits, two walks and hit a batter through four innings of work, then recorded his third strikeout of the game just before the game was suspended in the bottom of the fifth.
After a nearly two-hour layoff, Hicks seemed stronger than ever when he returned to the mound — striking out three of the final eight batters he faced while not allowing a single baserunner.
When asked if the delay helped his cause, he noted that it had more to do with personal pride and belief than anything Mother Nature could concoct.
He also couldn’t help but smile when referencing that his final start with the White Falcons resulted in another championship banner.
“I can’t say that a rain delay ever helps. With two rain delays today, it was an odd championship game,” Hicks said. “With however many hours that ended up being, and that was crazy, you just have to try and stay loose and persevere and get through it. Fortunately, we were able to do all of those things today.
“It’s just a great feeling to be state champs, and it means a little more to be part of the first back-to-back championship at Wahama. To bring another title to this school and this community, it’s just a great way to go out.”
Both teams had seven hits apiece, with Wheeling Central committing the only two errors in the contest. The Maroon Knights stranded five runners on base, while the guests left only three on the bags.
Riedel took the loss for Wheeling Central after surrendering two earned runs, two hits and a walk over 2.1 frames of relief while striking out three. McAbee started for the hosts, allowing three earned runs and five hits over 4.2 innings while fanning three.
Dalton Kearns led WHS with two hits, followed by Arrington, Hoffman, Grimm, Oliver and Ricky Kearns with a safety apiece.
Arrington and Dalton Kearns each drove in two runs, while Oliver scored a team-high two runs. Hoffman, Hendrick and Ricky Kearns also crossed home plate one time apiece.
Gentile led the Maroon Knights with two hits, followed by Rine, Campbell, McAbee, Brown and Keane with a safety apiece.
Keane scored a team-bests two runs, Standwich and Brown also scored a run apiece. Rine and Keane each knocked in a run during the setback.
Wahama is now 10-3 all-time in state tournament baseball contests, which also includes a current eight-game winning streak. The White Falcons appeared in their first state tournament in 1969 and were state runners-up in both 1978 and 1988.
Philip Hoffman, Colton Arrington and Tyler Grimm were chosen on behalf of Wahama as represenatives on the Class A all-tournament team.
Brian Shaw, Brian Campbell and Isaac Rine were all-tournament selections on behalf of Wheeling Central. Addison Rexrode, Logan Cooper and Luke Cooper were chosen on behalf of Pendleton County, while Jake Adkins was Man’s lone all-tournament selection.
It was the final baseball game for seniors Jared Nutter, Ian Hook, Mason Hicks, Ryan Thomas, Ricky Kearns and Tyler Grimm in Wahama uniforms.
The White Falcons’ remaining 2016 roster included juniors Philip Hoffman, Nyles Riggs, Wyatt Edwards and Jared Oliver; sophomores Colton Arrington, Dalton Kearns, Anthony Ortiz and Cass Kimes; and freshmen Tyler Bumgarner, Cooper Peters, Antonio Serevicz, Jacob Fisher, David Hendrick and Jonathan Frye.
The White Falcons defeated Hannan (15-1), Calhoun County (11-1), Calhoun County (6-0), Charleston Catholic (3-0), Gilmer County (7-0) and Man (3-0) en route to the Class A state final.
Jefferson repeated as Class AAA champions after defeating Nitro by an 11-2 count in the final championship game Saturday, while Bridgeport three-peated as Class AA champs by posting a 9-4 win over PikeView in the opening game Saturday.
All three 2016 state champions won their respective titles a year ago, making it the first time in WVSSAC history that all three state championships went to the same schools in consecutive years.
Wahama’s contest against Wheeling Central was the only state final that endured a weather-related delay of any kind.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.