MASON, W.Va. — There’s a first time for everything, and a second time for some.
For the first time in program history the Wahama baseball team has won back-to-back regional championships, as the White Falcons defeated Gilmer County by a 7-0 count in Wednesday’s Class A, Region 4 final at J.C. Cook Field. WHS — which didn’t allow a run in the regional tournament — will be headed to the state tournament in Charleston to defend its 2015 Class A State Championship.
After retiring the the Titans (18-17) in order in the top of the opening inning, Wahama (20-10) got its offense rolling in the home half of the frame.
WHS sophomore Colton Arrington drew a leadoff walk and then moved to third on a single by Jared Nutter. Nutter stole second base in the next at-bat, allowing Arrington to score the game’s first run on the throw. Wahama junior Philip Hoffman then singled to home Nutter, giving WHS a 2-0 lead still with no outs in the inning.
A single by Tyler Grimm advanced Hoffman to third base, and a stolen base by courtesy runner David Hendrick put two runners in scoring position. However, Hoffman was throw out at home trying to score on a grounder to the third baseman.
The White Falcons added a third run with one out, as Mason Hicks forced a throw to second base, allowing Hendrick to score on the play. After a 4-3 ground-out moved courtesy runner Wyatt Edwards to third base, Dalton Kearns singled home the Wahama junior, making the lead 4-0.
The White Falcons loaded the bases with a Nyles Riggs bunt-single and a Ricky Kearns base on balls, but a 4-3 ground-out stranded all three WHS runners.
A two-out walk in the top of the second gave Gilmer County its first base runner of the game, but Hicks struck out the next batter to end the frame.
With one-out in the bottom of the second, Hoffman was hit by a pitch and, after a strikeout for the second out of the frame, Hicks was hit by a pitch. Hoffman then scored on a GCHS error, making the lead 5-0 with two outs in the second.
Two White Falcons were stranded on base in the second frame, however, as a ground-out to shortstop ended the frame.
Hicks struck out the side in the top of the third inning, and Riggs led off the bottom of the of the frame with a double. Riggs moved to third base on a passed ball with no outs, but three consecutive ground-outs stranded the White Falcons junior in scoring position.
With two-outs in the top of the fourth, Gilmer County junior Chandler Ferguson — who singled and then moved to second, with one out in the frame — advanced to third on a passed ball. However, Hicks struck out the next batter to retire the side.
Wahama tried to add on with back-to-back two-out singles in the bottom of the fourth, but a 6-to-3 ground-out ended the inning with both White Falcons stranded.
The White Falcons put together some two-out magic in the bottom of the fifth, as Arrington walked, Nutter singled, and then Hoffman singled home Arrington. Hoffman drew a throw to second base during the next at-bat, allowing Nutter to score. A walk and a passed ball allowed WHS to put two runners in scoring position, but a fly-out to right field ended the inning.
Trailing 7-0, Gilmer County was retired in order for the second straight frame, in the top of the sixth. A 4-6-3 double-play and a strikeout ended the White Falcon sixth inning, before the hosts could add on to their 7-0 lead.
A one-out single and a two-out error allowed two Titans to reach base in top of the seventh, but Hicks struck out two of the last three batters to end the game and cap off the 7-0 Wahama victory.
“I knew if we got a run or two we had the game won,” 12th-year Wahama head coach Tom Cullen said. “The first inning, (Mason Hicks) was on, throwing strikes. I didn’t think they could catch up with him. Not too many teams have a number two as good as he is. It’s nice that Philip (Hoffman) was on the other night and Mason was on tonight because, to win, we have to have those two pitching their bests. They carried us down the stretch last year, and they’re going to have to do it again.”
Hicks was the winning pitcher of record, striking out 14 batters, walking one, while allowing two hits in a complete game shutout. Hoffman picked up the win in Monday’s 2-0 win over Charleston Catholic, striking out 10 in a two-hit, complete game shutout. The Red and White pitching aces were the winning pitchers of record in the state semifinal and final games last season.
Jason Montgomery pitched the first two innings and was the losing pitcher of record for GCHS, allowing five runs on five hits, two hit batters and two walks. Hunter Self pitched the next three innings for Gilmer County, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks. Jordan Brown hit one batter in one scoreless, hitless inning. Brown and Montgomery each struck out one batter.
“The first (GCHS) pitcher had some control problems, but when he did bring it in there, it was where they could hit it,” said Cullen. “There were a couple of spots that if we could get a key hit, we could blow it open and make it a 10-run game early. They kept changing pitchers to throw us off balance too, each one of them was a little bit different.”
Wahama’s offense was led by Hoffman — who was 2-for-3 with one run scored and two RBI — and Nutter, who was 2-for-4 with two runs scored. Riggs doubled once and singled once in four at-bats, Dalton Kearns was 1-for-4 with an RBI, while Grimm, Hicks and Jared Oliver were each 1-for-3. Arrington was walked twice and scored twice, while Hendrick and Edwards each scored once as courtesy runners.
“We started out good and hot, we manufactured some runs,” Wahama head coach Tom Cullen said. “(Gilmer County) is young, they’ve got three seniors with a bunch of juniors and sophomores. They’ll be back, they’re tough.”
Ferguson and Hunter Moore were each 1-for-3 for the Gilmer County offense, while Wyatt Helmick reached once on a walk and once on an error.
For the game, Wahama had one error and 10 runners left on base, while the Titans committed one error and stranded four runners.
The White Falcons will meet the winner of Thursday’s Man/Greater Beckley Christian game, in the state semifinal on July 3, in Charleston.
“I don’t care, we’ll take whoever we get,” Cullen said. “Greater Beckley is a solid ball club, they hit the ball hard, and they hit the fastball extremely well. Man, I haven’t seen a lot of them, but I know when they have Simpson on the mound they’re pretty good.”
This is Wahama’s seventh regional championship in program history with the other titles coming in 1969, 1978, 1988, 1996, 1998 and 2015. The White Falcons have won the state in their last three trips to the final four, but WHS has never went in back-to-back seasons.
“I told them all year long that getting back there is really, really hard,” Cullen said. “They were determined to make history, and they did.”
Wahama is missing four starters from last year’s state title team, but 11 White Falcons on back for another run at the state’s top prize.
“They have more confidence, it doesn’t mean we’re any better hitting, but they have more confidence,” Cullen said when asked about the difference between last year’s team and this year’s. “They believe in themselves and they believe that they can get it done.”
Among returnees from last year’s team are starters Philip Hoffman, Mason Hicks, Nyles Riggs, Jared Oliver, Ricky Kearns, Dalton Kearns, Jared Nutter, Colton Arrington and Ryan Thomas.
“The heart of last year’s state championship team is still right here,” WHS assistant coach Phil Hoffman said. “The group that won the state championship last year is still right here, and it’s the same daggone group that’s getting us back again.”
Alex Hawley can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2100.