University baseball team rallies late, eliminates Buckhannon-Upshur to advance in sectionals

MORGANTOWN — If there is anything to be learned from Wednesday’s 5-4 walk-off win by University in its sectional elimination game at Mylan Park against Buckhannon-Upshur, it’s that patience can be critical late in a game.
It was contrasting Caseys on the mound, with the Hawks’ lanky and hard-throwing Casey Smith against the stocky Casey Hamner for the Bucs, and for six innings, it was Hamner who completely stifled the UHS (10-16) lineup, limiting them to a single hit. The biggest threat for the Hawks came in the fourth, but a bases-loaded line shot to second baseman Alek Seech was quickly converted into an inning-ending double play.
B-U (13-17-1) scored a single run in the first, added a pair in the fifth and tacked on another in the sixth to take a seemingly comfortable 4-0 lead.
But Hamner finally tired in the seventh, walking the first two batters before giving way to the bullpen, and after yet another walk loaded the bases, UHS coach Buck Riggleman called on Max Kitzmiller to pinch hit, and he delivered with a two-run single to left to cut the lead in half and send the Hawks dugout into a frenzy.
“I was just looking to drive the ball, get it to the outfield and move the runners around,” Kitzmiller said. “It was a fastball up and in, got me on the handle a little bit, but I got enough of it to find green.”
Another walk loaded the bases, and a pair of wild pitches tied the score, although B-U managed to escape another jam to send the game into extra innings.
University’s Jake Spearen came on in relief, and promptly surrendered a double and a sacrifice bunt. But a short fly to right was snagged by a charging Clay Maholic, who fired home to catch the tagging runner from third for a perfectly executed rundown and clutch double play, 9-2-5-1-6. And after Evan Smith began the UHS half with a walk and a stolen base, Matt Renner’s sacrifice bunt was thrown late to third. An intentional walk loaded the bases, giving Spearen a chance to make himself the winner, and he calmly took ball four, and trotted to first to seal the improbable Hawks victory.
“It seemed like we sleepwalked through most of this one,” Riggleman said. “Hamner was good, but we hit him well the last time we faced him. This is a funny game sometimes, but there’s no doubt that the last three outs, and especially the last one, are the toughest to get. Somehow, although I think my receding hairline just receded about an inch tonight, we survived to live another day, and I just hope that our enthusiasm and excitement and energy carries over.”
UHS will take on Morgantown at 5 p.m. Thursday, needing to beat the Mohigans twice.

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