MORGANTOWN – With its season on the line, the University High School baseball team turned to its senior class on Monday.
The 10 seniors played a prominent role as they helped the Hawks (21-10) beat Bridgeport 3-0 and won the school’s first section championship since 2016.
“This is really just a close-knit group of guys,” second-year head coach Brad Comport said. “They are close on and off the field. Great senior leadership and just resiliency from them all year long.”
Senior starting pitcher Zach Harman turned in his best outing of the season as he pitched 5 and 1/3 innings. He struck out eight, walked three and surrendered three hits before giving way to fellow senior Cody Thomas, who pitched the final five outs for his fifth save of the season.
“Zach was just confident from the beginning,” Comport said. “He was commanding the strike zone and he had confidence in all of his pitches. They were working well and even when he got into some deep counts, he was able to make that necessary pitch to get us out of some tough jams.”
Harman wiggled out of trouble in the third inning when Zach Rohrig hit a two-out double and then advanced to third on a wild pitch. However, Harman was able to catch Bridgeport’s Kasen Baun looking for his fifth strikeout in the first three innings.
“I wanted the ball,” Harman said of pitching in the winner-take-all contest. “I had full confidence that I was going to come out and pitch well. I knew my team was going to play good and we were just going to dominate.”
University struck for its first run in the third inning when senior Jett Walters led off the inning by being hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Josh Smolkin and then scored when Thomas laced a double to left field.
“You just know that when Cody is in, you’re going to have a chance no matter what,” Comport said of his starting shortstop. “That’s what he has done and what he’s going to keep doing.”
Harman was also the benefactor of good defense as Thomas turned a double play in the fourth when Connor Blake hit a liner that Thomas caught and then threw to first to double off Michael Romano. Harman struck out three straight batters between the fifth and sixth inning before giving way to Thomas who inherited a jam with two runners on and one out.
Thomas was able to induce a weak popup off the bat of Blake for the second out and then struck out Mark Biafore to end the inning.
The Hawks, who will now face crosstown rival Morgantown in the regional, picked up two big insurance runs in the sixth.
Senior Gabe Templeton led off the inning when a double to center and then senior Gabe Jansen was hit by a pitch setting up Walter for an apparent sacrifice bunt attempt.
Walters couldn’t get the bunt down on the first pitch, then on the third pitch of the at-bat, he pulled the bunt attempt back and drove the ball through the middle of the infield scoring Templeton.
“That first pitch was a bunt sign, and I couldn’t get it down,” Walters said. “The second pitch was a slash sign, and I knew immediately that I needed to get the ball in play.”
Junior Joshua Smolkin finished the scoring when he hit a single to left field that scored Jansen.
“Those runs were big,” Comport said. “You’re never fully comfortable against a team as explosive and competitive as Bridgeport. So, to get a couple insurance runs late was really, really big.”
The Hawks will now face the Mohigans in the regional that begins on Monday, May 22. Morgantown will host the first contest with UHS hosting the second game and the Mohigans hosting the if-necessary game.
Thomas led the UHS offense with two hits including the double while Templeton had a double and Walters went 1-for-1 with an RBI. Phil Reed led Bridgeport with two hits while Rohrig had a double.
By ERIC HERTER/For The Dominion Post
University 3, Bridgeport 0
BHS 000 000 0 – 0 3 0
UHS 001 002 X – 3 7 2
BHS – Rohrig 3 0 1 0, Baun 2 0 0 0, Reed 3 0 2 0, Blake 3 0 0 0, Biafore 1 0 0 0, Biafore 1 0 0 0, Currey 3 0 0 0, Peasak 2 0 0 0, Curry 2 0 0 0, Duval 1 0 0 0, Lively 2 0 0 0, Via 1 0 0 0. Totals: 23 0 3 0.
UHS – Latocha 4 0 0 0, Thomas 4 0 2 0, Braham 3 0 1 0, Campbell 3 0 0 0, Croston 3 0 1 0, Templeton 1 1 1 0, Jansen 2 0 0 0, Walters 1 1 1 1, Smolkin 2 0 1 1. Totals: 23 3 7 3.
2B – BHS: Rohrig. UHS: Thomas, Templeton.
WP – Harman 5.1ip, 3h, 0r, 0er, 3bb, 8k
LP – Bell 6ip, 7h, 3r, 3er, 2bb, 6k
S – Thomas 1.2ip, 0h, 0r, 0er, 0bb, 1k