Barboursville blanks S. Carolina, 3-0
By RICK NOLTE
WARNER ROBINS, Ga. - Cooper Cummings was so nervous before West Virginia’s game Sunday afternoon in the Southeast Regional Little League Baseball Championship he spent most of the morning in the hotel bathroom.
“I must’ve gone five times,” the pitcher said. “I was really nervous.”
Once at the ballpark, Cummings and his teammates flushed away South Carolina. With the right-hander pitching a career game and his defense making some sparkling plays, the team from Barboursville advanced in the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament on a 3-0 victory.
Cummings scattered three hits, struck out five, walked one and hit a batter in tossing only 58 pitches for the complete game. He retired the side in order four times, twice with the help of a double play, and four of his five whiffs came in the final two innings.
“He was golden,” West Virginia manager Daniel Nida said. “That was what I needed out of him and that’s what I got.”
Cummings, who had most of the South Carolina hitters down a strike after one pitch, no-hit Fairmont in last week’s state championship game on only 63 pitches. That was his career-best before Sunday.
“It was my best,” he said of Sunday’s effort. “I knew if I could throw strikes and just let them put the ball in play, the defense would be there.”
South Carolina managed only one fly ball against Cummings, that coming from Jack Kakaras leading off the game. Save one line drive that led to one of the double plays, everything else hit was a ground ball.
“His delivery keeps the ball down,” Nida said. “If our defense plays well we’re in good shape.”
It was all Cummings needed after a big top of the first inning started when Landon Nida singled and stole second. Carson Carter then bounced back to the pitcher to move Nida to third.
Cummings smacked a single to left to score Nida before Jack Eastone walked. Aiden McCormill followed with a single into right-center field that brought home Cummings. Eastone ended up scoring as well when the throw back to the infield bounced away from the cutoff man.
Loser Cooper Noble was able to end the threat there by getting a groundout and a strikeout around a walk.
“I thought we’d really get it going big early,” Nida said. “But you know what, today we just needed the first one.”
Walking to the mound with a three-run lead did wonders for Cummings’ nerves and confidence.
“I was like, ‘well, that’s all we need,’” Cummings said. “I’ll do my job, let the defense do the work and we got this one in the bag.”
First baseman Jared Nethercutt had the defensive gem in the first to negate West Virginia’s lone error. After Bryce Harder reached when Carter couldn’t handle a shot to third, Nethercutt snagged Tripp O’Neal’s drive down the line and ran to first to double off Harder.
Right fielder Jordan HIcks and shortstop Eastone came up with the big plays in the second. After Charlie Marchbanks drew Cummings’ lone walk, Noble’s blooper fell just inside the foul line in shallow right field.
Hicks ran down the ball and fired to Carter at third base to cut down Marchbanks. Eastone ended the inning when he got to Peter Mershon’s grounder behind second base, ran to the bag to force Noble and threw to Nethercutt to get Mershon.
“We’re out there repping play after play every day (in practice) so we can make the plays in the game,” Cummings said.
Nethercutt provided another star-worthy play in the third after South Carolina had advanced a runner to third base for the only time in the game. He maintained contact with the bag when Carter’s throw sailed high after fielding a hot grounder off the bat of Kakaras with two outs.
South Carolina threatened in the sixth after Cummings fanned the first two hitters. Kakaras singled up the middle and Cummings hit Harder, but O’Neal bounced to Eastone, who stepped on second to force Harder and end it.
West Virginia faces either North Carolina or Virginia at 11 a.m. today. Virginia defeated West Virginia 12-5 in their Friday opener.
Eastone, the losing pitcher in that game, as well as Carter, who was a reliever, will be eligible to pitch. Cummings and Nethercutt, who won Saturday’s game against Tennessee are out.
“We’ve still got some bullets left in the gun,” Nida said.
WEST VIRGINIA 300 000 - 3 5 1
SOUTH CAROLINA 000 000 - 0 3 2
WP: Cooper Cummings; LP: Cooper Noble. Top hitters: (WV) Aiden McCormill 2-3, RBI; Cummings RBI.