WHEELING - Dillon Williams turned in what proved to be a game-saving catch and later doubled and scored the winning run in the fifth inning as the Wheeling Post 1 American Legion baseball team slipped past Moundsville Post 3, 3-2, Tuesday night at the Chambers 1-470 Complex.
Runners were aboard on second and third with two out and Moundsville already on top 1-0 in the top of the second when Jake Lucas reached out and sliced a flare that appeared ticketed for extra bases when Williams raced toward the right field foul line, dove and speared the ball just before it would have landed on the grass.
Later, with the score tied at 2-2 entering the bottom of the fifth, Williams dropped a one-out double down the left field line, took third when Shane Wellman uncorked a wild pitch and raced home as Nick Breen picked up the RBI with his high bouncer to third base.
Moundsville Post 3’s Jimmy Henderson scores during the first inning of Tuesday’s game against Post 1.
Photo by Rick Thorp
Although the victory gave Wheeling a split on the regular season in Area One play, run differential provided Moundsville with the bye for the opening round of next week's three-team double-elimination tournament.
Post 3 earned the bye thanks to a 7-5 victory against Wheeling earlier on the season. Post 1 needed at least a two-run win in Tuesday's game to gain the bye, according to Area One Tournament Director Billy Burkett, Moundsville's long-time coach.
''I guess so," Burkett said when asked if last night's game was like losing a battle but still salvaging a victory. ''We'll see a lot of them in the next couple of weeks if both teams get to the state tournament."
Wheeling, as the host team for this year's American Legion state championship, already is assured of its berth in the field. Either Moundsville or Weirton Post 10 will also be there even if Post 1 captures Area One laurels.
Manufacturing runs has been the key for Coach Tom Pasco's Wheeling club throughout the season and Tuesday was no exception.
Post 1's first two runs in the bottom of the second came as the result of a successful squeeze bunt and a passed ball. Matt Carnahan started the rally with a deep blast off the fence in left field that went for a double. He moved on to third when Jon-Michael Brunner singled to right. Brunner advanced an extra base on the throw back to the infield.
Both runners had to hold as Patrick Biega grounded out to John Mirandy at first base. But Carnahan then raced home on Andrew Kowalo's well-executed squeeze bunt as third baseman Jimmy Henderson made a fine play just getting the out at first. The passed ball then allowed Brunner to score from third, putting Wheeling ahead 2-1.
Two errors and a walk gave Post 3 its initial run in the top of the first inning and the visitors borrowed a page from Wheeling's book to tie things up during the fifth.
Mirandy's single and Todd Schmidt's double on a line smash past third base put two runners in scoring position with nobody out. After having failed to score during a similar situation earlier in the game, Moundsville also resorted to a squeeze play. Mirandy came charging home but Ryan Hughes missed the bunt attempt. However, Mirandy was able to complete a steal of home by sliding in under Breen's tag for the 2-2 tie.
With two runners aboard and one out after Mitchel French was hit by a pitch, Ethan Jacobs came out of the bullpen to stop the rally with a strikeout of Wylie Koontz and Phillip Smith's ground out to Carnahan at third base.
Pasco believes both Moundsville and Wheeling have a good chance of doing some damage if Post 3 can get past Weirton and qualify for the state tournament.
''Obviously, I like our chances since we already have a spot locked up,'' he said. "Moundsville is a good team. Wellman pitched really well for them. Still, we had some hard hit balls that were right at them. They deepened up (in the outfield) on some of our bigger guys but that was smart on their part."
Wellman was a hard-luck loser, going the distance and allowing seven hits. Doubles by Williams and Carnahan were the only extra base knocks surrendered by the Moundsville right-hander. He struck out two and walked a pair.
Wheeling depended on the combined servings of lefty Nick Naumann and Jacobs, who got credit for the victory after entering the game with the score deadlocked. The Post 1 mound duo allowed a total of five hits. Naumann struck out three while walking two. Jacobs fanned a pair and issued only one free pass.
''Nick threw very good in just his second start in the last couple of weeks," Pasco said. ''Then Ethan came in a held them the rest of the way. This was a good win for our kids."