MORGANTOWN – In order for a team to make any extended tournament run, it takes the entire team.
The University High School baseball team is a good example of that as the Hawks (25-11) have used their full roster throughout the 2023 season on their way to the Class AAA state tournament.
“One through nine, we really have good at-bats,” UHS head coach Brad Comport said on Tuesday after his team beat Lewis County, 9-6, in a tune-up contest before Friday’s state semifinal against Hedgesville. “When you can turn the order over with those guys having good at-bats and finding a way on base, then you get your big hitters up with those guys kind of setting the table.”
For most of the season, senior Jett Walters has played third base and hit in the No. 8 spot of the lineup while junior Joshua Smolkin has hit in the No. 9 spot and played second base.
Those two are both hitting above .280 for the season and are also among the top three regulars in on-base percentage. Smolkin is second on the team with a .500 on-base percentage while Walters is third with a .495 clip.
“I do what I can to get on base and move people around,” Smolkin said. “It’s another leadoff spot hitting ninth in the order. It’s another opportunity to get on base for my team, especially with the top of the lineup coming up.”
UHS was 6-8 at one point in the season before venturing on a 10-game win streak that coincided with Comport switching up his lineup.
Part of that lineup switch was putting Smolkin and Walters in their current spots in the order.
“It makes our order really efficient the whole way through,” Comport said. “The bottom of our order has been fantastic all year. You know, specifically just getting on consistently.”
The Hawks take advantage of finding ways on base as they have drawn 154 walks as a team but have also been hit by 87 pitches. Walters is second on the team as he has reached base 12 times after being plunked.
On Tuesday, both Walters and Smolkin were involved in a six-run second inning that proved to be the difference. Walters had a sacrifice bunt while Smolkin added a single and scored a run in the frame. Cody Thomas provided the big hit as he slugged a two-run double down the left-field line to give UHS a 7-2 lead.
University used five pitchers in the contest and withstood three-straight three-run innings from the Minutemen (15-11) who will play at 5 p.m. on Friday against Winfield in the Class AA state semifinals.
Noah Braham paced the UHS offense with three hits and one RBI while Gabe Templeton, Daniel Grabo, Smolkin, and Park Croyle each had a single.
Croyle provided a big two-out insurance run for the Hawks as he came off the bench and played catcher for the final three innings.
“That was a really big hit,” Comport said of Croyle’s single in the sixth inning. “Park’s a guy that does everything right. He’s the ultimate team player and he’s always ready when his number is called.”
Zach Harman pitched the first two innings and picked up the win on the mound for the Hawks. He will also get the ball on Friday. Thomas pitched the last inning to pick up his eighth save of the season.
“Zach has been extremely consistent for us,” Comport said. “He’s pitched in a lot of big games. He’s pitched extremely well on the big stage for us, and we feel confident with him.”
By ERIC HERTER
University 9, Lewis County 6
LC 022 200 0 – 6 6 7
UHS 160 002 X – 9 8 3
LC – Carder 4 1 2 0, J. Aman 2 1 1 0, Mealey 3 0 0 1, Hunt 4 1 1 0, James 3 1 1 0, Davisson 3 0 0 0, R. Aman 4 0 1 2, Cayton 2 1 0 0, Jeffries 2 1 0 0. Totals: 27 6 6 3.
UHS – Latocha 2 1 0 0, Thomas 4 2 1 2, Braham 4 0 3 1, Campbell 3 1 0 0, Croston 2 0 0 0, Croyle 1 2 1 1, Templeton 3 0 1 1, Jansen 1 1 0 0, Grabo 2 0 1 1, Walters 1 0 0 0, Furbee 1 0 0 0, Smolkin 3 1 1 0. Totals: 27 9 8 6.
2B – UHS: Thomas
WP – Harman 2ip, 2h, 2r, 0er, 0bb, 0k
LP – J. Aman 1.1ip, 3h, 5r, 4er, 2bb, 0k
S – Thomas 1ip, 0h, 0r, 0er 1bb, 1k