It almost didn’t happen, but thank goodness it did.
The Ohio Valley Publishing area needed the final day of the 2014-15 school year to come away with a state championship, but the Wahama baseball team expanded the tri-county area’s run to 11 consecutive years with some sort of state title after defeating Man by a 7-0 count on Saturday, June 6, in the 2015 WVSSAC Class A final at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.Va.
Wahama (25-7) had a common blueprint en route to the program’s third state championship in baseball, a plan that most baseball aficionados know by heart — pitch well, play solid defense, be patient at the plate and everyone contributes.
Scoreless through four complete, the visiting White Falcons finally broke through in the top of the fifth when nine-hole hitter Jared Nutter provided a one-out double down the right field line. Leadoff hitter Ricky Kearns followed with an RBI-single to center for a 1-0 advantage.
The Hillbillies (19-15) had the wheels fall off the wagon in the top of the sixth, as a one-out fly ball to left field was dropped — allowing the guests a golden opportunity. MHS followed by getting another pop up for the second out in the frame, but Wahama answered by reeling off six consecutive hits for six runs and a comfortable 7-0 cushion.
From there, Wahama’s defense escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the sixth and left runners stranded at the corners in the seventh. WHS reliever Garrett Miller fanned Man standout Braden Griffin — a West Virginia State signee — for the final out, and a quick throw to first on the dropped third strike started the White Falcon celebration.
The historical win capped a remarkable 7-0 postseason run, one that saw the White Falcons outscore and outhit their opponents by overall margins of 72-7 and 76-24, respectively. The six-run outburst in the top of the sixth was also the 13th time in 43 innings that WHS plated at least three runs during the postseason trek.
Wahama also posted five shutouts in those seven Class A tournament games and committed only four errors during that span, compared to 20 miscues by the opposition. The Red and White also never allowed more than two runs in any of those 43 tournament innings played.
After 11-plus seasons as Wahama skipper, not to mention being involved in a coaching capacity with the WHS program for 35 years, Tom Cullen was smiling ear-to-ear as his troops joined the 1996 and 1998 squads in bringing home a state championship.
Nonetheless, ending the White Falcons’ 17-year absence at the state tournament and coming away with the big prize still left the venerable mentor looking to the future.
“It’s a sweet topping on a rather long career, being my first as head coach. Hopefully we don’t have to wait as long to do this again the next time,” Cullen said with a chuckle. “We lose three great seniors and have a lot of kids coming back, but it will be up to those kids to want to get back here. I think they’ll work pretty hard to get back here again, but I’m pretty proud of all of them right now.”
Wahama outhit the hosts by a sizable 12-4 overall margin and committed only one of the four errors in the contest, the White Falcons’ first postseason miscue since clinching the Region 4, Section 3 title with a 15-0 victory over Calhoun County at J.C. Cook Field.
WHS — which won both regional and state games as the guests on the scoreboard — stranded just six runners on base, compared to nine left on by the Hillbillies.
Wahama has now won six straight Class A state tournament games and owns an alltime mark of 8-3 in the WVSSAC Final Four. WHS previously defeated Van (3-2) in 1996 and Moorefield (9-4) in 1998, the other two White Falcon championship campaigns.
Wahama’s 7-0 win was also the first shutout in a Class A final since Buffalo blanked East Hardy 10-0 back in 2006. The Red and White also appeared in the 1969, 1978 and 1998 state tournaments.
It was the final baseball game for seniors Demitrius Serevicz, Garrett Miller and Kristopher Clark in Wahama uniforms. The White Falcons’ remaining 2015 roster included juniors Jared Nutter, Kaileb Sheets, Ian Hook, Mason Hicks, Ryan Thomas and Ricky Kearns; sophomores Philip Hoffman, Kaleb Gibbs, Nyles Riggs, Josh Petry and Jared Oliver; and freshmen Colton Arrington, Cass Kimes and Dalton Kearns.
Joining Tom Cullen on the WHS coaching staff this season were assistants Ron Bradley and Phil Hoffman. Marcia Ortiz and Gary Clark also served as statisticians for the program.
The White Falcons defeated Hannan (17-0), Calhoun County (10-0), Calhoun County (15-0), Charleston Catholic (6-4), Williamstown (11-0) and Bishop Donahue (6-3) en route to the Class A state final.
Wahama recorded 10 shutout victories and outscored opponents 251-62 . WHS posted double-digit runs 12 times this year and held opponents to two or fewer runs 23 times.
The White Falcons finished the season with a team batting average of .298, a team fielding percentage of .925 and a team earned run average of 1.27. The WHS pitching staff struck out 283 batters, walked 100 and allowed opponents to hit just .174.
Congratulations to all of the scholar-athletes on their successes during the 2014-15 campaign. The next batch of memories are just two months away.
Bryan Walters can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.