SOUTH CHARLESTON — The Man All-Stars had two opponents on Sunday afternoon in the 10-12-year-old State Little League Tournament at South Charleston.
The first was the defending state champion Barboursville All-Stars, a daunting task.
The second was the oppressive heat at South Charleston's turfed Frank A. Mullins Athletic Complex at Little Creek Park, dubbed as "The Rock," as temperatures soared to the mid-90s under the blazing hot sun and well over 110 degrees on the field.
Man defeated both, upsetting Barboursville 2-1, and punching its ticket to Tuesday's winner's bracket contest again Hurricane. Both teams stand at 2-0 in the double-elimination state tournament heading into the 6 p.m. clash.
With the big win over Barboursville, Man is just one victory away from reaching Wednesday's state championship game and a shot at moving on to the Southeast Regionals, set for August 2-7 at Warner Robins, Georgia.
Hurricane advanced with a 2-0 win Sunday over Jefferson County, ending the game on a close play at the plate as the Hurricane catcher tagged out a sliding runner trying to score.
Barboursville dropped down into the loser's bracket, where they are scheduled to face Summersville on Monday at 6 p.m. in an elimination game. Summersville advanced with Sunday's 6-2 win over Princeton in a loser's bracket contest. In another loser's bracket game, Charleston Central was a 5-3 winner over Bridgeport on Sunday. Both Bridgeport and Princeton have been eliminated.
Sunday's big story, however, was the gutty play by the upstart Man All-Stars and the extreme heat.
Man pitcher Braxton Messer was the guttiest of all. Coming on in relief of starting pitcher Cameron Gerace in the top of the first inning and trailing 1-0, Messer went to work.
The right-hander ended up pitching a gem out of the bullpen in long relief, going 5 1/3 innings and allowing no runs on two hits with 13 strikeouts and two issued walks. He ended up striking out the side in the fifth inning.
In the sixth, Messer appeared to wear down in the heat as Man clung to its slim 2-1 lead.
Barboursville put two runners on as Riley Bowles drew a lead off walk and Cade Johnson singled but Messer then fanned two batters to end the game and complete the upset.
"Hats off to the pitchers," Man manager Mike Veres said. "Cameron came in and threw the ball well for 20 pitches then Braxton came in and was outstanding. To be honest it's just a continuation of what he's done all year. We have the utmost confidence in not only him but all of our pitchers. I'm very proud of these boys. I can certainly tell you this: there's not a team that has outworked us. These kids have been going literally three or four hours every single day. They give 100 percent and they have great attitudes. It's a great group of boys. They just have a great killer instinct to win a ballgame."
Man went ahead 2-1 by plating two runs in the bottom of the third inning, chasing Barboursville lefty relief pitcher Caden Vititoe off the mound.
Man did it unconventional fashion.
Three straight hit by pitches end up being the difference.
Man loaded the bases as Gerace was safe on a fielder's choice, Braxton Manns swatted a ground rule double to left and Cody Walls was then hit by a pitch to load up the bases with two outs.
Vititoe then plunked Gavin Cline with the bases juiced, forcing in a run to tie the game up 1-1. Trace Doty was next to be hit by a pitch and that forced in another run to make it 2-1 Man. It ended up being the winning run.
Barboursville went up 1-0 in the first as lead off man Bryson Shirkey walked and later scored on Cole Ferguson's RBI single to center.
Johnson was 2-for-3 with a pair of singles to lead Barboursville. Messer helped his own cause as he was 2-for-2 to lead Man. Haden Fraley, hitting in the number nine hole, had Man's only other hit, a single, but was erased by a force out in the third inning.
For Man, the District 2 champions, it's the team's second straight trip to the state tournament. Last year, Man played in the state tourney at Huntington.
With many of those players back, Veres said having the state tourney experience is paying dividends this year. Man had opened up state tourney play with Saturday's 13-7 win over Princeton.
"We were down 4-1 in the Princeton game and there was no panic in the boys eyes," Veres said. "This game, even though we were down 1-0 and with the momentum going on the Barboursville side at that point, we had no panic. They expect for good things to happen. That's what's so fun about coaching them."
Veres said the heat really didn't seem bother his players. Two large misting fans were placed near each dugouts. There were two 10-minute excessive heat delays which allowed players to get hydrated and drink plenty of water.
"The kids are used to it," Veres said. "We put them in the heat when we practice. I'll be honest, it's probably a lot tougher on us coaches than it is for the kids."
Man now shifts its focus to Hurricane in Tuesday's all-important game, which will determine who reaches the state finals. Hurricane is another traditional state powerhouse in Little League baseball.
"Hurricane is a lot like Barboursville," Veres said. "They always have a solid ball club. They have a great coaching staff. We know what to expect and we know that it's going to be a battle but I think these guys are ready for it."
Coincidentally, this summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Man Little League's 1969 state runner-up Little League baseball team. The team was honored by the Man Little League back in the spring.
This year's state tournament was reduced from the usual 14 to eight teams with the seven district champions from around the state plus the host team Charleston Central.
The Man community is also currently building an indoor athletic complex which could be used by various baseball and softball teams.
"The Man Little League hung up three district banners," Veres said. "That's the first time that's ever happened. Our Coach Pitch, our Little League girls' softball team and now our 11-12s defended its title. All three were district champions. The Logan County Commission has also come through with a beautiful new indoor facility for us at Man."
MAN 13, PRINCETON 7: Man overcame a three-run deficit by plating eight runs in the third inning and eventually defeated Princeton 13-7 on Saturday in the 10-12-year-old State Little League Tournament at South Charleston's Little Creek Park.
Braden Compton and Braxton Messer had two hits each to lead the Man All-Stars. Cameron Gerace, John D. Campbell and Casey Paynter had one hit each.
Man led 9-4 after three and tacked on one more run in the fourth and three in the fifth to grab a 13-5 lead. Princeton tallied two in the top of the sixth but it was too little too late.
Cody Walls was Man's starting and winning pitcher. Messer came on in relief in the third. Braden Compton and Haden Fraley also came out of the bullpen.
Paul Adkins is the Sports Editor of the Logan Banner. Follow him on Twitter at @PAdkinsBanner or email him at email@example.com