CHARLESTON - As Frankfort entered state tournament play in Charleston, the Falcons knew it would take a herculean effort, and maybe even a little bit of magic, to capture the school's first state baseball title since 1988.
By Chapin Jewell
CHARLESTON - As Frankfort entered state tournament play in Charleston, the Falcons knew it would take a herculean effort, and maybe even a little bit of magic, to capture the school’s first state baseball title since 1988.
After all, the Falcons would first have to defeat a Scott team with WVU-bound Carter Lyles on the mound. If that tall task could be accomplished, it turned out that then five-time defending state champion Bridgeport would await in the state title game.
Well, the Falcons dazzled all those in attendance and watching across the Mountain State on MetroNews’ Live Stream by defeating Scott and pitcher Carter Lyles 3-2 in a most dramatic fashion in the semi-final game. It took that herculean effort referenced above, and not just a little bit but perhaps the whole bag of magic to get that job done.
In the title game against Bridgeport, the Falcons would mount another herculean effort, unfortunately, Frankfort’s allotted magic had all but been expended the night before. In the end, despite their best efforts, the Falcons would fall to Bridgeport 5-2 in the title game, just as the Indians’ previous five state championship game opponents have done.
This concluded a season for Frankfort that can best be summarized as being nothing short of remarkable. The Falcons concluded the season with a record of 27-6 and as West Virginia’s class AA runner-up. Three of Frankfort’s six losses were to this year’s class AA and class A state champions (Bridgeport and Moorefield), one to a AAA state semi-finalist (Hedgesville), and the remaining two were to AAA neighbor and rival Hampshire.
“I’ve got kids that I’ll love until the day I die because they gave me everything they had, everything; that’s what high school sports is all about, giving everything you have for the name on the front of your shirt. I don’t put names on the back of our jerseys because we are Frankfort High School, we’re not individuals; those kids play for Frankfort High School. I am so proud of them; we didn’t get the job done here today, but I wouldn’t trade this team for any team in the world,” Frankfort coach Matt Miller said in post-game reflection.
Frankfort advanced to Charleston a season ago with a talented squad, but fell to Wayne 7-6 in a nine-inning, rain-delayed, memorable semi-final contest. While the Falcons had a talented group returning from last year’s semi-final team, gone to graduation was a tremendous amount of talented athletes, several of whom are playing baseball collegiately. While the cupboard was by no means bare, Frankfort would need a new crop of talent to step up and contribute alongside the list of key returning players with state semi-final experience. That’s exactly what happened.
“It’s been a great ride; this group of juniors and seniors, those guys from last year and this year, the memories they’re going to have with their brothers, what else could those kids ask for? Did we want to win the championship, absolutely; was it our goal to win a state championship, absolutely. We didn’t get there, we didn’t accomplish that goal; but we accomplished so much. I enjoyed watching them; those kids, I love them so much, I don’t have kids, those kids, they’re all my kids and I love them, they’ve earned so much the last two years,” an emotional Coach Miller explained.
It most certainly was a three-day stretch to be remembered, both in terms of the play on the field but also the effect the weather had on the cancellation and subsequent re-scheduling of the tournament games. Frankfort was originally slated to play Scott in the semi-finals on Thursday, that game got moved to Friday at 12:00. It would begin on time, but when the rain rolled in, play would be suspended at 1:17, and not resume again for another six hours. The game would conclude some eight hours and 17 minutes later with a Frankfort victory.
In Scott, Frankfort faced an opponent that put WVU-bound Carter Lyles on the mound, a powerful pitcher with an 89-mile-per-hour fastball and a repertoire of pitches that have earned him a reputation of being among the best of the best in the Mountain State. Make no mistake about it, Carter Lyles was the talk of the tournament, and he showed that he was in fact as good as advertised.
But Frankfort put their own college-bound ace on the mound, Caleb Hare. Hare, somewhat diminutive in stature, has earned the affectionate nickname “Troll.” Carter Lyles is 6’2” and weighs at least 230 pounds; Caleb Hare is not. Despite the difference in physical size, however, Hare’s skillset and drive made him just as important to the success of his team on the year and in this semi-final game as Lyles. Hare went toe to toe with the highly touted Lyles, and that includes their respective performances at the plate, in earning the 3-2 win for Frankfort.
Scott would get on the board first, scoring the first run of the game in the top of the third inning. Hunter Eplin opened the inning by reaching first base on a walk. Eplin was advanced to second base on an Aaron Epling single and advanced to third after an error on an Isaac Miller bunt. Eplin would then score as Nathan Kuhn hit into a fielder’s choice, giving Scott the early 1-0 lead.
After a scoreless bottom of the third and fourth innings, play was suspended due to rain with Scott clinging to the 1-0 lead heading into the fifth inning. At the time the game was halted, both pitchers, Lyles and Hare, had thrown the exact amount of pitches - 60. There was a great deal of speculation over the next six hours as to whether Lyles and Hare would resume play on the mound after the lengthy delay. As play resumed, after much speculation and drama, it would in fact be the two aces that would resume pitching.
After a scoreless fifth inning, Frankfort would rally to tie the game at one run apiece in the sixth inning. With one out, Caleb Hare would reach second base on an error. Hare would then steal a base to put himself on third with Chandler Rhodes at the plate. Rhodes responded by hitting a fly ball to right field to score Hare, who had tagged up from third, tying the game 1-1.
At the conclusion of seven innings of regulation play, and with both starting pitchers still on the mound, the game entered extra innings.
That’s when Scott’s Carter Lyles decided to do damage from the plate, not just the mound. With one out and runners on first and second, Lyles blasted a deep shot over the center fielder’s head to score Aaron Epling and reach third base with a triple; Nathan Kuhn was thrown out at home while attempting to score. Scott led at this point 2-1 in the top of the eighth inning.
When Frankfort came to the plate in the bottom of the eight, their backs were absolutely against the wall. Things got even worse for the Falcons as the first two batters struck out giving the Falcons two outs. Then the magic happened. With two outs, senior Zack Whitacre singled with a hard ground ball hit to center field. At the same time, Scott’s Lyles had expended his allotted pitch count and was forced to leave the game, after throwing 14 strikeouts and limiting the Falcons to just two hits in almost eight full innings of work.
With the new pitcher on the mound, Whitacre stole second base for the Falcons. Caleb Hare then hit a ground ball to Carter Lyles who was moved to third base from the mound; Lyles would sail the throw away from the first baseman, scoring Whitacre from second to tie the game 2-2. Hare promptly stole second base, but the magic wasn’t over. Senior Chandler Rhodes then stepped to the plate, and with two outs, hit a shot to left field that was mishandled by the left fielder, scoring Hare from second base to give the Falcons the thrilling 3-2 walk-off victory.
“Well I said the same thing last week at Fairmont that I’ll say tonight, I knew that if we could just get Zack (Whitacre) and Caleb (Hare) up in the top of the order we’d have a shot. And, they came through, and that’s what they did all year for us. Then Chandler hit a deep fly ball there that the kid mishandled and gave us a break, and we win the game,” an excited Coach Miller said after the game.
Unfortunately for Frankfort, the next night’s state title game would belong to Bridgeport. While the Falcons forced the Indians into a close eight-inning 2-1 affair at Bridgeport for the final game of the regular season, Bridgeport jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the state championship game. Frankfort fought hard to claw themselves back into contention, but it was too little, too late, as Bridgeport earned the 5-2 win, claiming their sixth state title in as many years.
The Indians set the tone early, scoring two runs in the first inning, and one run each in the fourth and fifth innings to take that 4-0 early lead. Frankfort would get to within two runs in the top of the fifth inning, scoring two runs of their own.
Frankfort’s first run was scored when Michael White hit a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Brendan Whiteman from third. With two outs, sophomore Ben Nestor then singled on a ground ball to left field, scoring Sebastian Stewart. This cut Bridgeport’s lead to 4-2.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Indians would give themselves an extra run of insurance, putting themselves up 5-2. Despite their best efforts, Frankfort would inch no closer as Bridgeport claimed the 5-2 victory.
In total, Bridgeport recorded eight hits to Frankfort’s six; both teams committed two errors apiece.
Bridgeport was led on the mound by Nick Stalnaker, who pitched five innings, striking out one, walking two, giving up one earned run on five hits. Tyler Wilkinson pitched an inning of relief, striking out none, walking one, giving up one earned run on one hit. Connor Robe then closed out the game pitching the final inning, striking out none, walking one, giving up no runs.
On the mound for Frankfort, Zach Whitacre went five and one-thirds innings, striking out four, walking three, giving up two earned runs on eight hits. Michael White closed things out with two-thirds of an inning of work, striking out none, walking none, giving up no runs and no hits.
At the plate, Bridgeport was led by Drew Harbert and Ethan Perry with two hits apiece, all singles. Perry drove in two RBIs, Harbert one. JD love also had an RBI for the Indians. Vincenzo Cava, Ryan Goff, Trey Pancake and D’Andre Holloway all scored runs for Bridgeport.
Caleb Hare led the Falcons with two hits in four at bats. Michael White and Ben Nestor recorded two RBIs; Sebastian Stewart and Brendan Whiteman scored one run apiece for Frankfort.
“They made plays; that team over there (Bridgeport) earned the game today; they hit the ball where we weren’t; nobody hit the ball hard pretty much all day; the balls that were hit were just hit em’ where they ain’t. They found more holes than we did, they earned the championship today; they beat us fair and square. Our guys battled, they didn’t quit, we aren’t going to quit, that’s not who they are,” Coach Miller said of the state championship game.
Frankfort Coach Matt Miller made it perfectly clear at the beginning of the season that he fully expected to be in Charleston at the end of the year competing for a championship. That’s exactly where the Falcons ended up. They made the most of their time in Charleston, electrifying an entire state with their dramatic semi-final win over Scott and giving their all against the Bridgeport dynasty in the title game. With a semi-final appearance a year ago, and a runner-up finish this year, who is to say Frankfort’s not on the brink of starting a dynasty of their own?