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Williamstown baseball punches ticket to state tourney

Photo by Cody Tomer Williamstown baseball players celebrate after clinching the W.Va. Class A, Region I championship Thursday in Wheeling, W.Va. The Yellowjackets defeated Wheeling Central, 5-3.

WHEELING, W.Va. — After a 5-11 start to the season, Wheeling Central’s baseball team found its confidence — going 9-4 the rest of the way and staving off elimination four times in the postseason.

There would not be a fifth, however, as Williamstown upended the Maroon Knights 5-3 in Wednesday’s Class A Region I championship at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Baseball Complex to send the Yellowjackets to the state baseball tournament.

“A lot of people counted us out a long time ago when we were 5-11 but we turned it around,” Central coach Jason Rowe said. “This group of guys never gave up and they got some confidence later in the year but we just couldn’t finish it (Wednesday). Kudos to Williamstown. They have a great team and a great coach.”

In a 3-3 deadlock in the sixth, Williamstown left fielder Baylor Haught singled and stole second. A hit by Ethan Holbert advanced him to third and a wild pitch brought him home for the go-ahead run.

The ‘Jackets added insurance in the seventh with a leadoff single and a stolen base by Maxwell Molessa, followed by a Chase Barkley sac bunt and a Leewood Molessa RBI sac fly.

“We said at the beginning of the game that whoever executes more is going to win,” Williamstown coach Levi Maxwell said. “I think it was huge that we were able to push that last score across.

“This opportunity to go to the state tournament means more than anything for any team but especially our guys. They have worked so hard every single day. That was one of our goals at the beginning of the year.”

Following an 8-5 loss to Central in Game 2 that kept the series alive, the Yellowjackets simply made the plays when they had to.

“Wheeling has unbelievable players and great pitching, especially (Ben Foster) on Tuesday. He kept us off balance and did an unbelievable job. They are probably one of the best hitting teams we’ve played by far. We were just able to get enough outs to win.”

Both teams received stellar pitching performances as Central’s Nick Tsoras and Williamstown’s Chase Barkley each went the distance and both had one strikeout and one walk.

“Chase pounded the zone,” Maxwell said. “He did an absolutely unbelievable job and our defense made some plays that kept us out of big innings. That was one of the big keys — we stayed out of big innings.”

The first batter of the game, Central’s Payton Hildebrand, singled, stole second and scored on a RBI seeing-eye single up the middle by Kaden Yocum to give the Knights a 1-0 edge.

The Jackets took the lead in the top of the second when an infield single by Brady Ankrom and another hit by Haught set the stage.

A ground ball by Holbert plated Ankrom and Luke Ankrom dropped a single into center to create a 2-1 cushion.

The Knights returned the blow and tied the game in the third with some two-out lightning when Yocum smacked a two-strike pitch to opposite field — bringing home Michael Toepfer, who singled.

Both teams tacked on a run in the fifth when Williamstown’s Barkley and Central’s Foster garnered RBI singles before the Jackets took the lead in the sixth for good.

“They just made the little plays and we didn’t,” Rowe said. “They got hits with runners in scoring position and we didn’t.”

Maxwell Molessa and Haught each turned in two hits for Williamstown, while Foster paced Central with three hits and a RBI and Toepfer tallied a single and a double.

Although Central only has four seniors in Colby Hartman, Zachary Vargo, Jordan Waterhouse and Yocum, it’s still hard for Rowe to see them play their final game.

“I’ve been with them since they were freshmen so it’s pretty tough for me,” Rowe said. “They are great kids. Last year’s seniors didn’t get a chance to play but these guys got their chance and they did a great job.”

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