By Rick Ryan, For the Gazette-Mail
Unlike its first two games in the Class AAA Region 3 series, St. Albans didn’t waste any time putting runs on the board Wednesday evening. And with a freshman pitcher on the mound, that made all the difference for the Red Dragons.
Ayden Youngblood went 3 for 4 with an RBI triple and Gavin Comer worked six solid innings as the Red Dragons boarded a 10-3 victory against Greenbrier East in the third and deciding game of their regional series.
The win sends SA (25-15) back to the state tournament for the fifth time in six seasons, joining Cabell Midland, Hedgesville and University in the four-team field at GoMart Ballpark in Charleston from June 1-3.
“To win a state championship, you’ve got to make it to Charleston,” said SA coach Rick Whitman, who guided teams to the 2017 and 2019 AAA titles. “And that’s our goal every year, to get to Charleston and see what happens. Anything can happen in two games, so that’s kind of been our mindset.
“I was on these guys pretty hard all year about not being tough enough, because I knew this wasn’t going to be easy for us to get here.”
Barely 10 pitches into Wednesday’s game, SA had taken a 2-0 lead. Youngblood singled, went to third went a pickoff attempt went awry and scored on Garrett Comer’s sacrifice fly. Ryker Parker then blasted a solo homer to left and the Red Dragons had something to show on the scoreboard.
In the first two games of the regional, that was not the case as East blanked SA 1-0 on Monday and the Red Dragons didn’t really break through in Tuesday’s 6-2 win at East until plating four runs in the top of the ninth.
In fact, St. Albans scored in every inning but the second on Wednesday, going up 5-2 after three innings before stretching it out.
“We hadn’t done that the first two games,” Whitman said. “Obviously, throwing a freshman in a big game like this, that helps getting him a couple runs. We struggled to score the first two games, so it was good to see us get two early.”
Gavin Comer allowed only five hits in his six innings, fanning five and walking five. Youngblood closed it out in the seventh, getting a 4-3 double play to end the game.
“He stepped up and it didn’t faze him a bit,” Whitman said of Gavin Comer. “He wanted the ball. He came in [Tuesday] night and closed the game out with three strikeouts for us.
“Really proud of him and really proud of this whole team, not quitting. I think that was our fourth straight elimination game [we’ve won], maybe the fifth. And they just keep finding a way. So proud of them.”
Greenbrier East (19-18) never found a way to keep the Dragons off the bases. The Spartans used five pitchers, who combined to issue 10 walks. East also committed four errors.
“We’ve prevented that all postseason, and tonight we couldn’t,” said Spartans coach Cory Mann.
East tied the score at 2 in the top of the third, getting a two-out, two-run single from Clayton Morgan. However, SA retaliated immediately with three runs in the home half of the inning, bunching five bases on balls and two hits along with an East error.
Tristan Harless had an RBI double and No. 9 hitter Will Curry delivered a two-run single in that uprising to bump the lead to 5-2.
The Spartans had some chances after that, and were never retired in order in any inning, but a sacrifice fly by Peyton DeHaven in the fourth marked their only other run. Against SA’s relentless attack, it wasn’t enough.
“I always expected to bounce back,” Mann said. “Eli [Green] didn’t have his best stuff tonight, so we were just trying to get somebody in there that could find it. Unfortunately, we kind of struggled all the way through. It was just a tough night for us.”
Besides the 10 walks, East’s pitchers permitted 10 hits.
“It’s win or go home,” Mann said, “so you try to kind of give kids a little bit of a leash to work through, but at the same time you can’t let the game get out of hand, or try not to let it get out of hand, and that’s why we were trying to cycle through and find something. Unfortunately, it never came together.”
Henry Goodwin went 3 for 3 for the Spartans and Morgan was 2 for 4. Also for St. Albans, Harless was 2 for 4 and Curry had three RBIs.
Whitman marveled at how his team was able to shrug off Tuesday’s dire circumstances in extra innings of an elimination game and keep its state tournament hopes alive.
“We’ve been put in some really tough situations,” Whitman said. “Last night, we got out of a bases-loaded jam with one out and we were one pitch away from our season being over. Finding a way to get out of it, then win the game, was huge. That kind of switched all the momentum in this series.”
St. Albans 10, Greenbrier East 3
Green, Lambert (3), Goodwin (3), Wilson (4), Boswell (6) and Morgan; Gv.Comer, A.Youngblood (7) and Harless; Hitting — GE: Goodwin 3-3; Morgan 2-4, 2 RBIs; Patton 2B; SA: A.Youngblood 3-4, 3B, RBI; Gr.Comer 2B, RBI; Parker HR; Harless 2-4, 2B, RBI; Curry 3 RBIs