CHARLESTON — Ever since the beginning of the season the Man High School baseball had a common goal in mind.
And that was to reach the Class A state championship game and to put itself into a position to repeat as state champs.
The Hillbillies (19-14) did just that as Man downed Moorefield, 5-1, late on Friday night in the Class A state semifinals at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park to advance to Saturday evening’s finals, where Man is scheduled to meet Wahama around 4 or 5 p.m.
Man was able to get the job done on Friday night with solid pitching by senior left-handed ace Braden Griffin and the timely hitting of third baseman John Thomas Keffer.
Griffin pitched a complete game win for Man, going seven innings and allowing just one run and three hits with 15 strikeouts and seven walks.
Keffer made his bat do the talking.
The junior ripped a two-run homer in the third inning on a towering high fly ball which was first called a triple. The ball hit the top of the fence and bounced down but after a short meeting by the umpires it was ruled a homer. Keffer was 2-for-3 and drove in four of Man’s runs, also coming up with a big two-run single in the top of the seventh to provide the Billies a pair of insurance runs.
Griffin then sat down the Yellowjackets in order in the bottom of the seventh to put the win on ice. Moorefield finished its season at 19-10. Lefty Jake Adkins is expected to take to the hill for Man in Saturday night’s Class A state championship game.
Griffin only gave up three hits but the seven issued walks kept Moorefield runners on base and kept them in the ballgame. Griffin, though, was able to get out of most of those jams.
“He could have probably gotten through the game with about 40 to 50 pitches less,” Man coach Larry Vance said.
Added Griffin, “Oh boy, I was wild as a buck, wasn’t I? But I managed to put a little bit of pressure on myself and basically force myself to throw strikes because there were runners on. I didn’t have any other choice.”
Man led 1-0 in the first as Beckwith tripled and scored on an error.
Keffer’s two-run blast to left then put Man ahead 3-1. Keffer then gave Man insurance in the top of the seventh with the two-run single to run.
“Those insurance runs were big,” Vance said. “Keffer hit the home run there that gave us a lift, then came up with the big two-run single in the seventh with two outs and that was huge for us.”
Keffer said it’s a good feeling to have another chance at a state championship.
“I was just glad to come out there and help my team get the win,” Keffer said. “We came here to win it. We didn’t come here to say that we went back to the state tournament again. We came here to win another state championship. We’ve got one more to go.”
Keffer’s fly ball in the third was initially ruled in play and he raced all the way to third for a triple. He was then told he could trot home as the umpires ruled it had hit the top of the wall and was a home run.
“They said it hit the top of the yellow and bounced down. I didn’t know. I just kept running,” he said. “Of course, it was good to hit a home run in the state tournament. It’s a good feeling. It’s exciting to play again in the state championship game. But we’re not done. We’ve got one more.”
Man avenged a 12-2 loss this season at Moorefield in a game that was played on May 1. Griffin, however, did not pitch that game.
“We knew that this game was going to be a challenge,” Vance said. “I was quite worried. Tomorrow will probably be another barn-burner. It’s Single-A baseball and you never know what is going to happen. We’ll have Adkins pitching for us tomorrow and I know Wahama has some good pitchers left also, so it should be exciting.”
Baley Beckwith was 2-for-3 with a triple, a double and one RBI for Man. He also made several nice running grabs in right field.
“Baley Beckwith in right field always makes great plays,” Griffin said. “Everyone else contributes, too, but whenever we are down we always come together. Baley came out hot night with the bats too. He has a triple and then a double after that. That’s what we have got to do as a team. We’re not a one-man show. This is a team effort. This is just as special as it was last year.”
Kenny Jo Adkins and Dylan Goodman added singles for Man. Seth Chapman, the Hillbillies’ DH, had a double.
Moorefield scored its lone run in the bottom of the fourth as Tyler Smith had an RBI single to left to cut Man’s lead to 3-1. Blake Conrad and Dakota Vetter also had hits. Conrad’s hit was a double.
Holden Sions was the starting and losing pitcher for the Jackets. He went four innings and gave up three runs on five hits with three strikeouts and one walk. Vetter relieved him in the fifth and hurled the last three innings, allowing two runs and two hits with five strikeouts and two walks.