By NICK CARROLL:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - On Friday June 1st the AA baseball semifinal at Appalachian Power Park was a soaking mess as the Wayne Pioneers needed 9 innings to knock off the Frankfort Falcons 7-6 in the longest game in WVSSAC Baseball Tournament history.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Heartbreaking. Exhausting. Soaking. Frustrating. Some of the words fans of Frankfort might use to describe the longest game in West Virginia baseball tournament history. Five hours and forty-two minutes after the first pitch, Zach Perry of the Pioneers hit a sac fly to right field to win the game for Wayne 7-6 in the bottom of the 9th inning. The Falcons (23-7) had a special team this year with incredible senior leadership combined with a relentless work ethic to achieve greatness. It’s unfortunate how the season ended for this group of guys especially with rain and tournament structure as major factors in determining the final outcome. (More on tournament structure later).
The massive amount of precipitation seen recently in Appalachia has wreaked havoc on the baseball tournament this season. First the Falcons took home the sectional title as rain prevented a championship game from being played. (The first time in known history rain dictated the Section 1 champion.) Rainfall became the nemesis once again on Friday afternoon causing several delays in play with one time period of inaction exceeding 150 minutes. Is rain the only excuse for losing? Not at all, but certainly it was a determining factor in the outcome of a tight game.I firmly believe if we didn’t sit here through a freaking monsoon and a rain delay and tarp removal three times that we would have walked away with a victory today, but that didn’t happen. Frankfort Coach Matt Miller
In the game itself the Falcon offense started slow and went scoreless in the first two innings. Blake Wasson was on the mound for the Falcons and he held Wayne scoreless in the bottom of the 1st inning. However, the Pioneers were able to scratch out 1 run in the bottom of the 2nd inning to take an early 1-0 lead. Frankfort responded in the top of the third inning as Zack Whitacre knocked in a run to tie the game 1-1. In the bottom of the third an early walk and 2 errors came back to haunt the Falcons as the Pioneers scored three runs to take a 4-1 lead into the 4th.
Wayne was able to score an additional run on a questionable call at first base as the Wayne baserunner Zack Perry blasted Blake Wasson as he covered first base, knocking him down and temporarily injuring the future Kent State star. This play allowed Wayne's Wyatt Milum to score a run as the ball was sent sailing out of Blake’s mitt into foul territory. Coach Miller explained his point of view on the physical nature of the play, “According to our preseason meetings if a player gets collided with and they go down due to an injury that the play is immediately dead. Only 1 run should have scored according to what I was told. That's a big run for them considering this was a 1 run game.”
Down three runs, once again Frankfort didn't flinch. In fact, the Falcons responded immediately as freshman Brady Whitacre smacked a line drive double to left field scoring Wyatt Yates to trim the lead down to 2 runs. Wayne’s pitcher Wyatt Milum was obviously flustered after surrendering the run scoring double, promptly walking 4 of the next 5 batters which allowed Frankfort to score 2 more runs without a bat touching a ball to tie the game 4-4. Blake Wasson took care of Wayne in the bottom of the 4th with a 3 up 3 down series highlighted by striking out the final Pioneer batter.
As rain clouds started to appear across the Charleston skyline, the Falcons jogged off the field and senior center fielder Foster Conis struggled to reach the dugout. The humidity was high in the state capital with temperatures in the mid-80's which apparently caused Foster to suffer from symptoms of heat exhaustion. Foster managed to reach the bench in the dugout and the medical staff on hand treated him for heat exhaustion. Conis was removed from the remainder of the game as a safety precaution. “Foster went down with a heat related injury, and not having him in the lineup in some big situations hurt us, but Chandler Rhodes did a great job of filling in that spot and being big for us.” said Miller.
Frankfort’s offense couldn’t get anything started in the top of the 5th inning as they returned the favor to Wayne going 3 up and 3 down. After allowing a single to start the inning, Blake Wasson took care of the next three Pioneer batters leaving a man stranded on 1st and the game tied 4-4 to conclude the 5th inning. In the top of the 6th inning Frankfort went strikeout, ground out, ground out, and once again failed to grab a lead. Blake Wasson was still on the mound to start the bottom of the 6th but was removed from the game once he exceeded the 110 pitch count level. Zack Whitacre took over on the bump for the Falcons but an error in the field allowed Wayne to score two more runs and take a 6-4 lead to conclude the 6th inning.
Frankfort's top of the order led off the 7th inning and Zack Whitacre reached base via walk but Wayne manage to grab the next 2 outs. The Pioneers were 1 out away from winning the game however Wayne committed a major defensive error which allowed Blake Wasson to reach first base and keep the game alive. Wasson was to reach scoring position to give the Falcons men on 2nd and 3rd. With an open base at 1st and still 1 out away from victory Wayne could have intentionally walked the next batter, Wyatt Yates, to load the bases to effectively make it easier defensively with a force out at all 4 corners. However, the Pioneer coaching staff decided to let the 3rd base senior star have a crack at bat, and Wyatt Yates made the Pioneers pay. As rain came pouring down from the skies above, Yates came through in the clutch crushing a ball to left field scoring Whitacre and Wasson to tie the game 6-6.
Wayne could not produce a run in the bottom of the 7th to send this game into extra innings. Frankfort was able to load the bases in the top of the 8th but the Pioneers escaped with a strikeout to end the Falcon threat. Wayne failed to score in the bottom of the 8th inning as catcher Nick Corwell fought off large drops of precipitation tossing a rocket to Caleb Hare who tagged out a Pioneer baserunner trying to steal 2nd to end the inning. Then came the monsoon and the tarp was stretched across the field just before 4:00pm.
The next pitch was seen at 6:30pm as Wyatt Yates singled on a line drive to center field to start the 9th inning but the next 3 Frankfort batters went down via strikeout. In the bottom of the 9th inning the Pioneers took advantage of a leadoff walk which eventually was driven in by a sac fly from Zach Perry to win the game 7-6 in the bottom of the 9th inning. Simply a heartbreaking loss for the Falcons. After a moment to reflect with his team Coach Miller summarized the Frankfort program, “The six seniors on this team set a foundation for this program, but our program works hard, and we work hard all the time, all these kids put in so much time, I can’t speak highly enough about them. I’m going to miss my six seniors tremendously, I love those guys.”
The Falcon Fanatics had a difficult and long journey to reach Appalachian Power Park, but without question Frankfort had the loudest and most supportive cheering section in the AA final four. In March, the Falcon fans received an award as the best cheering section in the girls basketball state tournament and once again Columbia blue was proudly on display in Charleston by parents, grandparents, students, siblings, friends and fans of Frankfort athletics. Coach Miller summarized the Frankfort fan mindset, “We preach family. Our pep bus, our students, and to see the support we received today I am so proud of our school, our hometown. We are one of the smallest AA schools in the state and to see our section fill up and stay yelling and screaming all day was special. I’m a Falcon, and a Falcon forever and I love my Falcon family.”
Using logic, can someone explain the current structure of the WVSSAC state baseball tournament?
As quoted by Ernie on Seasame Street,
"One of these things is not like the other,
One of these things just doesn't belong."
Student-athletes, coaches, and parents spend hundreds of hours combined with countless dollars for players to improve their craft, and when a team is fortunate enough to reach the pinnacle of achievement, a single elimination tournament greets them!? So in the most important tournament in the lifetime of a player, coach, or program its wild card time? Baseball at every level uses a double elimination format from Little League to the MLB World Series to determine the champion. Simply put, it's time for the WVSSAC to restructure their state tournament format.
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