SOUTH CHARLESTON — It had been a long, long time since the Logan High School baseball team had failed to win a sectional championship.
For the last 12 years, Logan marched through its Class AAA and AA sectional tournaments, winning a dozen titles and advancing to the regional tourney each year.
Some of those years, Logan went all the way, winning Class AAA state championships in 2000 and 2001 and taking a pair of Double-A crowns in 2005 and 2008 when LHS had a brief stint as a Class AA school.
The last time Logan didn’t win a section title Bill Clinton was still president.
People were getting ancy about Y2K.
A gallon of gas could still be purchased for a buck.
No one had ever heard of Facebook.
There was still a baseball team called the Montreal Expos.
And on the Logan team was a strapping freshman left-handed first baseman and pitcher by the name of John Ryan Steele, who is now one of the Wildcats’ assistant coaches.
The year was 1999.
But the 12-year streak came to an end on Thursday night as Class AAA No. 9 Logan was stunned 3-1 by homestanding South Charleston in the sectional championship game at SC’s Bryan McIlwain Baseball Complex. With it, Logan’s season came to an end at 21-7.
The Black Eagles, which had also beaten Logan 4-2 in last week’s sectional game on the island, are just 9-24 on the season.
But it doesn’t matter.
Records don’t count this time of the year.
South Charleston is the champion and moves on to host Riverside (17-15) on Tuesday in the 3A regional semifinals.
It was the third straight season the Wildcats were foiled in the post-season. The last two years home team Capital had eliminated Logan 3-1 and 2-1 in a pair of nail-biting regional semifinal games.
This time it was South Charleston in the sectionals.
It was quite an emotional loss for Logan.
Not only was it the last high school game for its senior class, it was also the final prep contest for longtime assistant and pitching coach Jim Willis Jr. Willis, a Logan High School Athletic Hall of Fame member and Wildcats’ assistant baseball coach since 1977, had announced earlier in the year that he was retiring from coaching. A few weeks ago, LHS honored Willis at a home game, bringing back nearly 100 of his former players and declaring it “Jim Willis Day” on the island.
“Losing my best friend … that’s going to be tough,” an emotional Logan coach Roger Gertz said after the game about losing Willis, his trusty right-hand-man. “He’s the catalyst in what we do. He’s calm. I’m the hot head and the redneck and he’s just the same even keel all the time. He’s got a sense of humor. The kids are really going to miss his pitching expertise. He’s done a great job with our pitchers. I love him like a brother.”
Playing their last game for Logan were senior twin brothers Adam and Alex Mareske; as well as other 12th-graders Matthew Greene; Justin Oney; Cody Frye; Andrew Staton; and Codie Doss.
“We’ve had some good senior groups over the years but this group, people-wise, is one of the best groups that we’ve had,” Gertz said. “We’ve got some great kids. The Mareske’s are both great kids and they are going to be successful in this world.”
Frye started for Logan and allowed just three runs and three hits over 4.2 innings with two walks and two strikeouts. He was relieved by Troy Burgess in the fifth and Z. Minnick in the sixth.
All in all, South Charleston could only muster three hits the entire game but made them count.
Logan hit the ball hard at times and managed nine hits but they were mostly scattered.
“We couldn’t get it when we needed it,” Gertz said. “We scored the one run and I thought that it might loosen us up a little. But it just wasn’t meant to be. Cody threw well and Burgess came in and did a good job. He’s just a sophomore but we put him in a few late game situations here late. Minnick pitched and he’s a freshman who is going to be an outstanding player.”
Gertz said there was a lot of pressure on his team.
“We had a few mistakes here and there but that’s what high school baseball is all about,” he said. “The kids come out here and give everything that they’ve got and the stupid adult coaches put too much pressure on them.”
Gertz had praise for the Black Eagles, a team that has seemed to be snake-bitten all year. South Charleston went just 1-10 in its last 11 regular season games but five of those losses were by a single run.
In short, the Black Eagles are a team with a deceiving record.
“How many one-run games have they had this year?” Gertz said. “They are a lot better than 9-24. They did what they had to do to win. Their pitcher got the ball over the plate and did a heck of a job in the last two games that he’s pitched against us.”
Jared Jobst was the starting and winning pitcher for SC. He allowed one run and nine hits with four strikeotus and two walks over seven innings in the complete game effort.
The game was scoreless through four innings.
Logan finally broke the ice in the top of the fifth as Chase Preston reached base safely on an error and scored as Greene hammered a 3-2 fastball to center for an RBI single to make it 1-0.
The Wildcats were fortunate to score the run.
On the previous pitch, Greene lofted a high fly ball in foul territory along the left field fence next to the bullpen netting. South Charleston shortstop Austin Santrock and third baseman Jonathan Pauley both raced over to the fence after it. Santrock seemed to have a beat on it and reached up for the catch but the ball bounced off the bullpen netting’s iron bar and out of play.
Another couple of inches down was Santrock’s glove.
He was robbed.
Then on the next pitch, Greene delivered his hard smash to center.
South Charleston, though, was able to answer with a big three-spot in the last half of the fifth.
James Walton got it started with an infield single. He took second on a wild pitch, moved over to third on Raese Ripley’s groundout to short and scored on a Logan error to tie it up 1-1.
Jake Woolwine then reached base on a catcher’s interference play and both runners moved up to second and third after a wild pitch from Frye.
Then it was first baseman Evan Delbart who ripped a high, towering double to the right center field wall, scoring two runs to make it 3-1 South Charleston.
Gertz then went to the bullpen with Burgess, who ended up getting out of the inning by picking off Delbart at second base with a quick move and zippy throw.
Logan threatened in the top of the sixth inning.
Catcher Benji Adkins ripped a smashing one-out double down the left field line to get it started.
Left fielder Josh Rein then smacked a single up the middle to put runners on the corners with two outs. Logan third base coach Kevin Gertz held courtesy runner Andrew Staton at third as South Charleston center fielder Ripley charged, scooped up the ball and was ready to fire home.
Roger Gertz said Kevin’s hold-up at third was the right call.
“He would have been out,” Coach Gertz said. “That was a good decision. Their centerfielder is a good player and he got on the ball quickly. If he would have sent him he would have been out at the plate.”
Jobst then got out of the inning as Trent Dalton popped out to short.
The Wildcats tried to rally again in the seventh as Greene kept Logan alive with a screaming line-drive double to the opposite field in left over the head of South Charleston’s Zach Wright. The Black Eagle left fielder had a chance to end the game, but misplayed the ball and allowed the Logan center fielder a two-bagger.
Minnick kept it going with an infield single to put runners at the corners and placing the potential game-tying runs on base and the go-ahead run at the plate.
But it was the Black Eagles which ended the game in dramatic fashion as second baseman Woolwine jumped to catch a liner off the bat of Alex Mareske.
Cinderella South Charleston, with just nine wins, is just two more victories from reaching the state tournament in Charleston. The Black Eagles won Class AAA state baseball titles in 1977, 1978 and 2006.
“We’ve still got a long way to go but that was a good victory right there,” South Charleston coach Ken Samms said. “That (Logan) is a good ballclub. They are well coached. There’s no quit in our team. We’re playing well at the right time and I hope it continues on Tuesday next week. This is a tough sectional. GW is a good ballclub and this (Logan) is an excellent ballclub. We’ve lost a bunch to them all year and we’ve lost a bunch all year anyway but this is when it counts. It counts right now.”
Adkins led Logan as he was 3-for-3 at the plate. He hit the ball hard all three times. Greene, who is heading to play at West Virginia University next season as a walk-on, went 3-for-4. Adam Mareske also had a hit.
Woolwine also had a hit for the Black Eagles.
Logan had advanced to the finals with last Saturday’s 15-5 win over George Washington. The Cats trailed 5-4 in the sixth but plated 11 runs to end the game via mercy rule. Logan opened the sectionals with a 6-2 win at GW on May 7.
The sectionals were delayed two days last week by rain and by the WESTEST this week.
South Charleston and Logan split in four meetings this year. Logan won both regular season contests.