Local Sports, Morgantown, Sports, University

Hawks clinch regional series, state tournament spot with 13-8 win over Morgantown

GRANVILLE — The last time University High baseball made it to the state tournament, none of the Hawks’ current players had been born and Jedd Gyorko was a freshman.

Fast forward 19 years and the Hawks are heading back to Charleston as Univeristy (24-11) closed out the best-of-three Class AAA Region 1 championship series with a 13-8 win over rival Morgantown (24-8) Wednesday at Mon County Ballpark.

“We really did know (this was possible) all along,” UHS coach Brad Comport said moments after having ice water dumped on his head. “This is such a good group of kids and such a great staff that keeps the kids engaged. We knew we could do it and it’s really good to see that belief come true.”

University players react after defeating Morgantown in the Regional Championship on Wednesday. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

University took Game 1 of the regional series on Monday 13-1 but dropped Game 2 6-4 on Tuesday after allowing three runs in the seventh inning. The Hawks came out on Wednesday and scored five runs in the top of the first to set the tone early.

“That first inning was crazy,” said UHS senior Noah Braham, whose infield single drove home the first run of the game. “After what happened (Tuesday), we knew we needed to come out and score fast and score big.”

Following Braham’s infield hit, Wenkai Campbell hit an RBI double, Jake Croston had an RBI infield single of his own and Jett Walters and Josh Smolkin forced in runs on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch and walk.

“It’s always our goal, especially when we’re the away team, to score first,” Comport said. “Anytime you can spot yourself five (runs) right away it’s a good thing, obviously. Just really happy with how we came out and had really good at-bats to start the game” 

Morgantown started senior Greg Eddy on the mound, but the left-hander lasted just 1/3 of an inning, allowing five runs before being replaced by Caleb Cottle.

“The biggest inning in baseball, historically, is the first inning,” MHS coach Pat Sherald said. “If you get down in the first inning and give up those big runs, you’ve got to crawl to get back.”

UHS added two more runs in the top of the third on a two-run single by Smolkin to lead 7-0, but that’s when the Mohigans counterpunched with five runs in the bottom of the frame to cut the lead to 7-5.

“We knew they weren’t just going to go away so quick like that,” UHS shortstop Cody Thomas said. “We knew it was going to be a battle, it was going to be seven innings. One swing wasn’t going to change the game.”

MHS loaded the bases in the bottom of the third and Ryan Fluharty unloaded them with a double to deep left-center field. Aaron Jamison followed with an RBI single and Caleb Nutter drove him home two batters later to complete the five-spot.

Morgantown’s Ryan Fluharty (7) connects on a pitch against University in the Regional Championship on Wednesday (William Wotring/The Dominion Post).

Despite it seeming like Morgantown had seized all the momentum, University came back in the top of the fourth with six runs to re-establish the lead at 13-5.

“They’re really explosive, they’re a really good offense, you’re never comfortable at any point against a team like Morgantown,” Comport said. “What was big for us was when they scored, we were able to come right back and answer that. That’s a big reason momentum didn’t swing too much that way and our guys did a good job of stopping the bleeding and then answering back.”

UHS loaded the bases before Braham scored on a wild pitch, Walters walked with the bases loaded and Croston scored on a balk. Brodee Latocha hit an RBI single and Thomas followed with a hard-hit single into left field that scored two.

“When you put up that big inning and then give up that big inning, it can take a little bit of the momentum away,” Sherald said. “(My players) never laid down, they never quit. They just kept fighting and fighting and then we just ran out of innings.”

University starting pitcher Gabe Jansen pitched into the fifth inning, ultimately allowing seven runs in 4 1/3 as Morgantown scored twice in the fifth on a wild pitch and a balk. Jansen walked four and struck out three, but the first, second and fourth innings were scoreless as he picked up the win.

University’s Gabe Jansen (13) delivers a pitch against Morgantown in the Regional Championship on Wednesday (William Wotring/The Dominion Post).

Sophomore Daniel Grabo replaced Jansen with one out in the fifth and allowed just one hit, a Fluharty double in the seventh, as he tossed the final 2 2/3 innings to secure the win and a spot in the state tournament.

“It was a lot of emotions,” Grabo said. “I just knew I needed to throw strikes for my team. During (the OVAC tournament), I made a mistake and I knew I needed to make up for it.”

Smolkin, the No. 9 hitter, led the Hawks with three RBI as Thomas and Smolkin had two and Latocha, Braham, Campbell and Croston each had one. Thomas, Campbell, Croston and Smolkin all also had two hits.

Drew Bailey led MHS with three hits while Fluharty had three RBI. Jamison had a hit and an RBI and Nutter had two hits and an RBI.

Cottle pitched six innings of relief, allowing eight runs on seven hits while striking out four.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to UHS. They found a way to win and took advantage of their opportunities and we’ll be rooting for them down at states,” Sherald said. “I’m just so heartbroken for (my players) that we weren’t able to pull it out. They did everything for the last four years that I’ve asked them to do.”

The deciding Game 3 of the regional series was played at Mon County Ballpark thanks to an invitation from the Monongalia County Commissioners and the WV Black Bears.

“This is always a great atmosphere, it’s an amazing facility,” Braham said. “Probably one of the best college baseball facilities, it’s immaculate. The energy’s crazy, there were so many fans here.”

“Really cool for the community, amazing turnout,” Comport added. “A great, energetic and engaged crowd, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Kudos to both sides, it was a really well-played series and a really well-played ballgame.”

The 2023 WVSSAC state tournament will begin Thursday, June 1 at Go-Mart Ballpark in Charleston. The Class AAA semifinals will be played Friday morning with all three championships on Saturday.

University 13, Morgantown 8
UHS 502 600 0 — 13 11 0
MHS 005 020 1 — 8 9 2
UNIVERSITY — Latocha 4 2 1 1; Thomas 5 1 2 2; Braham 4 2 1 1; Campbell 5 2 2 1; Croston 5 2 2 1; Templeton 4 1 1 0; Jansen 1 2 0 0; Walters 1 1 0 1; Smolkin 3 0 2 3. Totals 32 13 11 10.
MORGANTOWN — Mazey 1 1 0 0; Galuksy 3 1 1 0; Fluharty 3 1 1 3; Jamison 4 1 1 1; Bailey 4 1 3 0; Nutter 4 2 2 1; Travinski 3 0 0 0; Cottle 4 0 0 0; Anderson 4 1 1 0. Totals 30 8 9 5.
2B — UHS: Campbell. MHS: Fluharty, Nutter.
WP — Jansen 4.1ip, 7r, 8h, 4bb, 3k.
LP — Eddy .1ip, 5r, 4h, 1bb, 1k.

TWEET @CodyNespor