CHARLESTON — Man High School has never won a state championship in a boys’ sport.
The Hillbillies’ baseball team hopes to have something to say about that.
Man advanced to Saturday morning’s Class A state championship game after knocking off St. Marys 3-1 on Thursday night in one of the two Single-A state tournament semifinals at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park.
Man (20-12) is set to take on Clarksburg Notre Dame (27-6) in Saturday’s state finals at 10 a.m.
For the Billies and head coach Larry Vance it’s the third time the Man baseball team has reached the Class A state championship game in the last six years. The Billies were state runner-ups in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010. Man lost to Moorefield, 9-3, in the ‘09 finals and to Weirton Madonna, 8-3, in 2010.
This time, Man hopes the outcome is different.
Coach Vance has taken the Billies to the state tournament four times with the other appearance back in 2005, which resulted in a 7-0 first-round loss to Notre Dame, the same school Man will face in Saturday’s state championship game.
Notre Dame overwhelmed Gilmer County in Thursday night’s other Class A state semifinal at Appalachian Power Park, winning 15-6 over the Titans (25-11).
St. Marys lost for only the third time this season and closed out the 2014 baseball campaign with a 29-3 record.
Man hopes to bring home a state title in a boys’ sport.
The Billies have come close in football over the years, reaching the Class A state championship game four times with the latest coming in 2009.
Man High School’s only state championships have come on the girls’ side as the Lady Billies’ softball program have taken three state crowns in 1983, 2008 and 2009.
The Billies played very well in Thursday’s matchup with St. Marys, the Region 1 champion. Man did it with pitching, sound defense and timely hitting.
The catalyst was Braden Griffin, who pitched the win and provided some offensive punch. Griffin, the junior left-hander notched the win on the mound as he went 6.1 innings and allowed just one run and three hits with six strikeouts and five walks.
At the plate, Griffin was 3-for-3, ripping two doubles and driving home one of Man’s three runs.
St. Marys made things interesting in the top of the seventh inning as Griffin issued a leadoff walk to DH Tyler Davis and then walked No. 9 hole hitter Michael Stout to put runners at first and second — the potential game-tying runs.
Coach Vance then went to his bullpen and called on another lefty — Jake Adkins.
Adkins then got the job done and notched the save with the help of Man’s nifty 6-4-3 double play to end the game.
The double play was one of three outstanding defensive plays by the Billies in the game.
Sandwiched in between the two seventh inning walks, Man right fielder Baley Beckwith made an improbable catch in foul territory as the Blue Devils’ Garrett Furr lofted a fly ball which was hooking to the stands. Beckwith hustled and ran to it, eventually diving onto one of the two bullpen mounds in foul ground to make the stab.
Back in the third inning, Man first baseman Noah Maynard made a diving stop of a hot grounder off the bat of Stout. Maynard didn’t have time to get up and tossed from a seated position to pitcher Griffin who covered first for the putout.
Man went ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning as DH Tyler Blair walked and scored on Griffin’s long double which bounced to the warning track in left centerfield.
The game stayed that way until the bottom of the fifth when the Billies’ Kenny Joe Adkins singled and scored on Blair’s RBI single to center.
St. Mary’s cut it to 2-1 in the top of the sixth as Jarrod Lough singled, went to third on a Man error and scored on catcher Johnny Riggs’ RBI ground out to second.
Man added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth as Noah Maynard was safe on a fielder’s choice and later scored on a wild pitch.
Cayce Mullins and John Thomas Keffer added hits for the Billies.
Robbie Harper, who hit into the game-ending double play, was the starting and losing pitcher for the Blue Devils. He went all six innings and gave up three runs and seven hits with six strikeouts and three walks.
Griffin said Man’s defensive effort was a huge confidence builder.
“Absolutely. That makes you more comfortable on the mound,” Griffin said. “We had a great game defensively tonight and I can’t thank them enough. I just came in here and gave it my all and did my job. We just pulled it out.”
Man rebounded from last year’s 7-23 season to make it back to the Class A state finals after a three-season hiatus.
With Man’s relative youth, the future looks bright for Man baseball regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
“It’s looking very good,” Griffin said. “We’re looking to get it this year and hopefully we can get it next year.”
Griffin said Man is confident even as they are about to face a very good hitting Notre Dame ballclub.
“Baseball is baseball. We’ll come out and play,” he said. “We’re going to give them everything that we’ve got. We’re going to try to play good defense again and try to get the bats rolling.”
Coach Vance said Griffin gave Man an outstanding pitching performance.
“He did a tremendous job tonight against a very good hitting St. Marys ballclub,” he said.
Vance said the Irish will be very tough to beat. He indicated after the game that Jake Adkins will start for the Billies in Saturday’s state championship game.
“They put up a ton of runs tonight in the first game here,” he said of Notre Dame. “We’ll just go in with the same plan that we had tonight. Adkins, who finished here, will get the start. We’ll see what happens.”
Vance said he hopes to bring back another state championship to Logan County.
“I think everyone here from Logan County would agree with you,” Vance said.
Rooting on the Billies were members of the Chapmanville Regional High School baseball team. The Tigers, clad in orange shirts, watched the game from behind the home plate screen.
Chapmanville is set to play in the Class AA state tournament on Friday at 5 p.m. against Bridgeport, also at Appalachian Power Park.
If the Tigers win on Friday, there will be two teams from Logan County in the three state championship games.
The 2A state final is slated to have a 4 p.m. first pitch on Saturday. The Class AAA final is 1 p.m.
West Virginia State
At Appalachian Power Park
Notre Dame 15, Gilmer County 6
Man 3, St. Marys 1
Washington (23-4) vs. Hurricane (27-7), 10 a.m.
Riverside (19-10) vs. Wheeling Park (20-6), approximately 12:45 p.m.
Bridgeport (30-6) vs. Chapmanville (29-6), 5 p.m.
Fairmont Senior (22-7) vs. Independence (26-7), approximately 7:45 p.m.
Class A State Final: Man (20-12) vs. Notre Dame (27-6), 10 a.m.
Class AAA, approximately 1 p.m.
Class AA, approximately 4 p.m.