Irish shut out Wahama for first state tourney berth in 30 years
HUNTINGTON — The last time the Huntington St. Joe Fighting Irish made the state tournament George H.W. Bush was president of the United States, “Family Ties” aired its final episode and Sunday Silence won two-thirds of horse racing’s Triple Crown with wins at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
The No. 3-seeded Fighting Irish are headed to the state tournament for the first time since 1989 after defeating Wahama 7-0 Tuesday at the YMCA Kennedy Center’s George T. Smailes Field, giving head coach Dave Jenkins’ team the Class A, Region IV baseball championship.
Tuesday’s win followed a 9-2 win Monday by the Irish in Mason, West Virginia. Much like that game, Tuesday’s contest was never close.
Huntington St. Joe (21-10) opened scoring in the bottom of the third inning with a two-out single by Lenny Washington, scoring Noah Beter from third. The Fighting Irish left two other potential runs stranded on the bases and slim a 1-0 lead for starting pitcher Hunter Eplin to defend.
Eplin allowed a lead-off single in the top of the fourth and a two-out walk but he kept the White Falcons at bay. That missed opportunity proved to be big as Huntington St. Joe scored five more runs in the fourth to break the game open. Bronson Barker scored on a two-base error by Wahama at third after he singled and advanced to second on a walk. Max Adkins, who reached on the walk, moved to third base on the error then he scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by Luke Stollings.
Caleb Smith, Beter and Washington also scored that inning and the Irish were on their way to ending the 30-year drought.
“This is a dream come true,” said Beter, who along with Barker, Adkins and Joe Faucette make up the four seniors on the squad. “My freshman year I set a goal for myself that I wanted to reach the state tournament in high school, and that happened today.”
The players and their coach admitted winning a regional tournament was redemption for a program they felt had been intentionally seeded lower last season. Still, the 2018 Fighting Irish made the regional championship before falling in three games to Ravenswood.
“We’ve heard it all before with recruiting and things like that, but you look at Joe Faucette coming from basketball and Max Adkins coming out from soccer. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have a team,” Jenkins said of his 11-man roster.
Good hitting and good pitching from its small roster paved the way for Huntington St. Joe. The Fighting Irish sent 10 batters to the plate in the five-run fifth inning that included two sacrifice RBI, three singles and an RBI double.
Then there was the pitching. Eplin came within one out of pitching a complete game before he was pulled due to pitch count. Cory Sweeney allowed two runners to reach in relief but got the final batter to fly out to left field to end the game and preserved the shutout.
Wahama (24-7) seldom threatened to score off Eplin. The White Falcons didn’t get a hit until the fourth inning, when Ethyn Barnitz led off the top half with a single. He reached second base after Eplin issued a two-out walk, but a ground ball to Washington at third allowed him to get the force out to end the threat.
In the fifth, a strike out and fly out were followed by a single, a walk and a hit batter that loaded the bases with two out. The White Falcons left the bases loaded after a pop out to Beter at shortstop then went quietly in the sixth with Eplin picking up his fourth strikeout of the game.
Eplin struck out David Hendrick for the second out in the seventh inning, giving him five for the game against two hits and no runs allowed.