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Black Bears open 2024 season with sudden-death loss to Frederick

GRANVILLE — The quirks of the MLB Draft League were on full display on Opening Day as the West Virginia Black Bears opened the 2024 season with a 6-5 to the Frederick Keys in sudden death Tuesday night at Kendrick Family Field.

Tied 5-5 after nine innings, West Virginia chose to play defense in sudden death, needing a scoreless frame to secure the win. Instead, Frederick (1-0) doubled to the left field fence on the first pitch from WV reliever Lance Hartley, scoring the automatic runner from second and winning the game.

“Lance got ambushed on the fastball and the ball kicked over the top of (left fielder) Brody (Black’s) head,” West Virginia manager Daivd Carpenter said. “It happens, it’s part of the game. It sucks to be on the losing end of it, but the guys are going to come back (Wednesday) and compete their butts off.”

West Virginia (0-1) nearly fell into a classic baseball pitfall early on, as three WV pitchers walked 12 Frederick batters across the first five innings. The Black Bears walked 15 total batters in the game.

“That’s just guys getting amped up and wanting to go out there and throw the ball by guys and throw their best stuff on every single pitch,” said Carpenter, who threw over 200 innings across his six-year MLB career. “They need to understand that everything needs to work in unison and to just relax and execute the pitch rather than trying to drop it to their backside and throw the absolute you-know-what out of it.”

Christian Womble came in from the bullpen and stabilized things to give the Black Bears’ offense the chance to tie the game in the later frames. Womble, from Jacksonville State, entered in the sixth inning with the Keys leading 4-2 and threw 3.2 innings of one-run ball.

“He was incredible,” Carpenter said. “Just went and pounded the zone with his sinker and rushed people with his fastball. He did a fantastic job.”

Womble started to run out of gas in the top of the ninth, walking two to load the bases and hitting a batter to force in a run, which allowed Frederick to tie the game 5-5.

West Virginia threatened in the bottom of the ninth, but couldn’t score, sending the game into sudden death.

“(Tuesday) it was knowing that we had enough fresh arms to run out there,” Carpenter said of choosing to play defense. “You’re going to pick offense if you’re a little bit light on pitching or the guys are swinging it really, really well. This early in the season I felt it was best to try to get some guys out there to throw the ball.”

Brody Black and Jarrett Ford both reached to lead off the bottom of the seventh, setting up Jeff Liquori’s one-double double to tie the game 4-4. It was Liquori’s second RBI double of the night, as he drove in Ford on a book-rule double to right-center in the bottom of the third.

“He’s got a good, quiet approach,” Carpenter said of the Florida International senior. “His bat-to-ball skills are really, really nice…the ball jumps off his bat. To see him put it together in a game was a lot of fun to watch.”

Josiah Chavez and Ryan Grabosch both got on to lead off the eighth with Chavez coming in on Dariel Osoria’s line drive to center to take a 5-4 lead.

Frederick got on the board in the top of the second on a solo home run to right field by designated hitter Kaden Moeller. West Virginia got runners on the corners in the bottom of the frame but failed to equalize as Frederick reliever Christian Rodriguez came on and logged back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.

West Virginia’s bats finally got going in the bottom of the third. A successful hit-and-run by Ford and Dalton Wentz put runners on the corners for Liquori, whose book-rule double to right-center tied the game 1-1. Two batters later, Jordan Rogers drove in Wentz on a hard groundball to third base for a 2-2 lead.

Recent Cameron High School graduate Coy Angel was first out of the West Virginia bullpen to protect the lead. The first two Frederick batters reached against Angel, but the in-state product helped turn an infield pop-up into a double play, catching the runner at first drifting too far off the bag. Following a walk, he got a strikeout looking to end the scoreless frame.

“He’s a guy that I’ve known for about eight or nine months and I’ve seen the progression he’s made and the hard work he’s put in,” Carpenter said of Angel. “He’s going to settle in well here.”

Angel was lifted following two more walks and a strikeout in the top of the fifth. Both runners came around to score to put the Keys up 3-2. Angel’s final line was two runs in 1.1 innings with two strikeouts and four walks.

The Keys added an insurance run in the top of the sixth on an infield hit by Tervell Johnson that scored Jadyn Fielder, who had walked and advanced to third on two wild pitches to lead 4-2.

West Virginia and Frederick meet for game two of the opening series today at 6:30 p.m.