Greenbrier East head baseball coach Cory Mann could not have scripted the postseason any better.
Entering the Class AAA Region 3, Section 2 championship round Friday against Beckley, the Spartans needed just one win to secure the sectional title.
Making its championship prospects even brighter was the fact that East had won its two sectional games without throwing ace pitcher, Jake Roshau, for a full game.
The senior lefty refused to let his team down.
Throwing a complete game, Roshau surrendered just one run and struck out nine batters to lead Greenbrier East to a 4-1 victory over the Flying Eagles.
“I wanted to come in, throw strikes and make them get on base on their hits and not our errors. Our defense played amazing and we hit the ball,” Roshau said. “I knew I had to buckle down because they weren’t going to just lay down and we would really have to play against them.”
After some struggles at times during the regular season, Greenbrier East entered Friday’s game having won eight of its last ten games.
“They are playing great baseball. There is always stuff to clean up, but they are a close knit group and they stay together,” Mann said. “They are in and out of the the lineup and they do their job. It’s been a nice run.”
The scenario for the championship game almost seemed to good to be true.
“I wasn’t nervous, we just wanted to focus on the moment and that is where we are at. Be where your feet are,” Mann said. “Obviously anytime you have your ace going, you are confident and that is where our feet were. I knew it was going to be a tough game. I knew we would have to execute and the kids did that.”
Both teams mounted a threat in the opening inning, but could not take advantage.
East took control in the second inning, scoring all four runs with the aid of two Beckley errors.
Gabe Patton led off the inning with a single. Roshau then pounded an 0-2 pitch into the ground for a chopper towards the shortstop.
When the ball was mishandled, the Spartans were in business with runners at first and second with no outs.
Clayton Morgan moved the runners up one base with a sacrifice bunt before Ian Cline drove in the first run of the game on a ground ball to second.
A walk and a hit batsman loaded the bases, but just when Beckley looked as if it would escape any further damage, another error allowed two runners to score for a 3-0 lead.
A single from Gavin Bennett made it 4-0 before a strikeout stopped the bleeding for Beckley.
“We wanted to get that early lead. That changed the whole mentality of the game for us,” Roshau said. “It keeps us up and hyped in the dugout and keeps everybody engaged.”
The story for Beckley was missed opportunities in crucial situations.
Connor Mollohan’s lead-off double in the first inning went by the boards. The Flying Eagles had runners at first and second with one out in the third inning, but a double play by the Spartans quelled that threat.
The fourth inning was especially damaging to the Beckley cause when it had the bases full and just one out.
A ground ball to short erased the runner at second, but when the runner was ruled to have interfered with the throw to first, East had an inning-ending double play.
“They fought tonight like we have all year. We hit the ball this time against (Roshau). He didn’t strike us out as much as he normally does,” Beckley head coach J.P. Stevens said. “We had a couple of unfortunate calls and a few errors. Other than that, it was the kind of game you would have expected.”
The Flying Eagles finally pushed a run across in the sixth inning. A two-out double from Logan Williams scored Blake Stratton who had doubled earlier in the inning.
In the previous two meetings between the longtime rivals, Beckley had mounted a late comeback.
The first rally was good enough for a regular season win for Beckley in Fairlea. The second comeback sent their sectional battle to extras before East pulled out the win.
A walk and a single to open the bottom of the seventh inning appeared as though another wild finish was in store.
“It’s high school baseball. You know at the end of the day there is going to be an inning or two in the game where if you don’t shut it down, a team is going to make a run,” Mann said. “Here recently, that has just happened to be the sixth or seventh inning.”
Roshau took his game to another level in crunch-time.
“I knew I couldn’t let my team down. They trusted me with this game, so I really had to show out and not let them down,” Roshau said.
Facing the top of the Beckley lineup, Roshau recorded two strikeouts and a ground ball out to secure the win.
“You saw that senior leadership. I talk to the guys all the time about when you are in that moment, you have to have that bulldog mentality and want to be in that moment,” Mann said. “I think we definitely saw that switch flip on.”
“We have had games this year where there have been big moments and we haven’t executed,” Mann went on to say. “Tonight we did. That has been a main focus in practice and in talks everyday. These kids have really captured that.”
The main goal this year for Beckley was to make the sectional championship round in Steven’s first year at the helm. He credited his seniors for the strong season.
“The six seniors have laid the foundation for Beckley baseball,” Stevens said. “We are no longer a free win. People said we would be .500 at best this year. Those seniors worked their butt off this year for us.”