CHARLESTON — For quite a while on Saturday in the Class A state championship baseball game at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park, the Man High School Hillbillies’ bid for a repeat seemed possible.
The game was scoreless through four innings and Wahama only led the Billies 1-0 after five.
Then came a disastrous sixth inning.
The White Falcons sent 10 batters to the plate and scored six runs, taking a 7-0 lead after six.
It was all but over by then.
The score held as Wahama (25-7) got Man out in the seventh inning and won the state championship, ending the reign of the Hillbillies, last year’s Class A state champs.
The Billies, a 5-1 winner over Moorefield in Friday night’s state semifinals, saw its season come to a close at 19-15.
Jake Adkins was the starting pitcher and pitcher of record for Man. He went 5.2 innings before getting pulled in the sixth inning in favor of reliever John Thomas Keffer. Adkins allowed four runs and five hits with three strikeouts and one walk. Wahama’s other three runs were charged to Keffer.
Mason Hicks pitched a masterful game for the White Falcons and notched the win. He went six innings and allowed no runs on three hits with eight strikeouts and six walks. Garrett Miller then finished off the Billies in the seventh.
Man could only muster three hits the entire game — a double by Mikle Scott Rowe and singles by Baley Beckwith and Braden Griffin.
“It was a great pitchers duel to start and then all of a sudden their balls started finding holes,” Man coach Larry Vance said. “The first four innings, wherever we wanted the pitch to be, it was there. But in the fifth, (Adkins) just got the ball up, middle of the plate, waist-high. And it kind of carried over to the sixth.”
Wahama coach Tom Cullen said he was happy to bring home a state title. Wahama could be in the state championship mix again in 2016 as a dozen or so of the White Falcons top players will be coming back.
“I was happy for it to be 1-0, but those six runs sure made me feel a lot better,” Cullen said. “They’ve been telling me all along that they were going to do it. They’re tough kids, and they find a way to win. I love them.”
Ricky Kearns led Wahama at the plate as he was 3-for-4 with three RBI. Miller was 2-for-4 and Jared Nutter, the No. 9 hole hitter, was 2-for-3 with a double and one RBI.
Wahama led 1-0 in the fifth as Nutter had a double and scored on an RBI single to center by Kearns.
The floodgates then opened in the sixth.
RBI singles by Khristopher Clark and Nutter made it 3-0. A two-run single to center by Kearns upped the margin to 5-0 and Kearns then soon scored on a wild pitch.
Philip Hoffman closed it out with an RBI double off Keffer, pushing the lead to 7-0.
Keffer was finally able to get out of the inning as Miller flew out to center.
The damage was done, however.
Vance said Man just couldn’t find a way to get on base.
“Their pitching was the difference,” he said. “They did a good job of keeping us off-balance. Their starter was peppering the outside part of the plate and we were chasing a little bit. Wahama’s pitching just shut us down.”
With the game scoreless in the bottom of the third, the Billies tried to make some noise. Tyler Dugan and Kenny Jo Adkins both walked to put two runners on but Beckwith hit into a fielder’s choise to end the threat.
In the fourth with the game still scoreless, leadoff man Griffin reached base on a throwing error and tried to take second but the ball bounced hard off the wall and Griffin was gunned down at second trying to take an extra base.
Later in the frame, Keffer walked and Rowe doubled putting runners at second and third with one out, but Hicks was able to get Austin Gent to pop out to second and DH Seth Chapman struck out swinging to end the inning.
It was all downhill after that.
Vance said his team had another great run.
“We were just talking here in the huddle after the game,” he said. “We win gracefully and we lose gracefully. We give all of the credit to Wahama and their staff and players. With all of the talent that we’ve had the last two years, we thank them because this is something that we haven’t done before.”
Man hopes to make a third straight trip to the state tournament next season but it won’t be easy as several key players will be lost to graduation, including Griffin, Beckwith, Dugan and Rowe as well as reserves Austin Cook and Brian Lester.
“We have some talent coming back and we have a chance to get back here,” Vance said. “Any time you play your last game it’s tough to lose your seniors regardless of what class it is.
Keffer, Adkins, Griffin and Beckwith were named to the all-tournament team.