Virginia eliminates Barboursville from Southeast Regional
WARNER ROBINS, Ga. - Two ground balls back to the pitcher defined West Virginia’s game Monday morning in the Southeast Regional Little League Baseball Championship.
The first came in the bottom of the first inning and helped fuel an opening rally for Virginia. The second ended West Virginia’s sixth-inning threat with the tying run on base to enable the club from Loudon, Virginia, to escape with a 7-4 victory over the team from Barboursville.
The loss was the second for Barboursville against Virginia to end its run in the double-elimination event with a 2-2 record. Virginia won the opening game of the tournament between the two, 12-5..
“They did what we asked them to do when come down here,” West Virginia Manager Daniel Nida said. “We told them to compete no matter what happens, and they competed until the last at-bat. That’s all you can ask for.”
Virginia put its border rivals in catch-up mode with a three-run first inning that turned on a comebacker to losing pitcher Jack Eastone with one out in the inning and a runner on first base. Eastone, who also was the loser on Friday, fielded the hard grounder cleanly, but when he turned toward second base to start a potential double play, he couldn’t make the transfer to his throwing hand and dropped the ball.
Still with time to get Shawn Arneja at first, Eastone couldn’t pick up the ball to make the throw. Instead of possibly being out of the inning, Virginia had two runners on.
Nate Hoskins singled home the first run, then he and Arneja scored on the same wild pitch when catcher Jack Dempsey couldn’t find the ball along the backstop.
“I don’t know if it was jitters or what, but that wasn’t my team that first inning,” Nida said. “We settled down after that, but that was a tough start.”
Virginia added three more runs in the second to chase Eastone and another off reliever Carson Carter in the third to appear to have things secure.
West Virginia finally broke through with a run in the fourth when Clayton Hettlinger singled with two out off reliever Ryan Pugh to bring home Trevor Lingenfelter, who had reached on a fielder’s choice. Lingenfelter began the rally against Pugh in the sixth with a walk before Evan Akers flew out to left field.
Hettlinger reached on an error by the shortstop before Ethan Blackburn singled to load the bases. After Carter popped out to the pitcher, Cooper Cummings singled home Lingenfelter, and Eastone singled in Hettlinger and Blackburn.
Arneja, Virginia’s winning pitcher in the opener, took over for Pugh and walked Aiden McCormill off a full count to load the bases, however, the left-hander got Jordan Hicks to bounce back to the mound to end it.
“In my opinion, (Virginia) is the best overall team down here,” Nida said.
West Virginia out-hit Virginia, 8-7, but left 11 runners on base. Cummings had three singles to lead West Virginia while Carter had two.
“Sometimes you get the hits when you need them,” said Nida, whose team produced with runners on base in its weekend wins over Tennessee and South Carolina. “Today, we out-hit them, but when we needed a big one, we couldn’t get it. That’s baseball.”
West Virginia finished fourth in the eight-team field that traditionally produces a winner that fares well in the World Series.
West Virginia 000 103 - 4 8 3Virginia 331 00x - 7 7 2
WP: Griffin Burkholder; LP: Jack Eastone; Save: Shawn Arneja. 2B: (V) Arneja. Top hitters: (WV) Cooper Cummings 3-4, RBI; Carson Carter 2-4; Eastone 2 RBI; Trevor Hettlinger RBI. (V) Hoskins RBI, Duy RBI, Arneja RBI.