MASON, W. Va. — When Wahama’s tank was starting to go low, Philip Hoffman kept bringing the gas.
As a result, the white-hot White Falcons remain on fire.
That’s because host Wahama, with its ace pitcher Hoffman hammering down the Trimble Tomcats for a massive 18 strikeouts, captured its ninth consecutive victory on Wednesday — a 6-4 Tri-Valley Conference Hocking Division triumph at J.C. Cook Field.
The win raised the White Falcons’ record to 9-1, as Wahama remains undefeated in the TVC-Hocking at 8-0.
The White Falcons, the defending division champion which shared the title with Trimble last season, remains the top-ranked baseball squad in all of West Virginia Class A.
The Tomcats fell to 5-3 — and 4-2 in the TVC-Hocking with their other league loss to Waterford.
Speaking of Waterford, which played Trimble on Thursday, the Wildcats were 7-1 in the division — with their only setback coming against Wahama.
While Wahama’s roll of nine straight wins have come without much drama, the White Falcons fell behind 2-0 on two unearned runs in the opening at-bat against Trimble.
But the White Falcons rallied with three runs in the third and two more in the fourth against Tomcat pitcher Dante Brammer, as Wahama took advantage of two walks in each inning — along with a dropped fly ball in each frame.
The Tomcats tried to forge a comeback, boasting a point apiece in the fifth and sixth stanzas.
But Hoffman helped himself in the sixth with a key insurance run — a two-out RBI-double down the right-field line to score Ricky Kearns, who walked.
In all, of the White Falcons’ six runs, four of them were the direct result of an issued free pass — with the other pair coming courtesy of Trimble’s two errors.
“We got behind 2-0 because of our own doing, but then we started to take advantage of the walks and errors they made. It was kind of like a game of mistakes for a while. But our kids responded and I was proud of them. Our kids don’t have any quit in them,” said Wahama coach Tom Cullen. “They are going to battle and fight to the end. When they walked us or made an error, we made it pay off for us. Then Phil (Hoffman) had a big hit in the sixth inning to get that last run.”
Trimble coach Phil Faires agreed that Wahama was the beneficiary of his club’s mistakes.
“We gave them three in the third, and we were wanting to get through at least four (innings) with Dante (Brammer pitching), but we didn’t quite make it. We stretched our pitching arms a little bit more than I wanted,” said Faires. “We had two fly balls that should have been caught, but I was more disappointed in the leadoff walks. Those are killer. You would be surprised how many times they score. When Dante has gotten himself in trouble, it’s been because of leadoff walks. Especially at the bottom of the order against the eight-hole or nine-hole hitters. Then we throw in two errors and a hit batter and a wild pitch (in fourth inning). You can’t give those good teams those extra outs. And Wahama took advantage of it.”
And, Hoffman made the most of his run support.
Despite five walks, the hard-throwing Wahama right-hander handcuffed the Tomcats to only two hits, including an RBI-single down the left-field line by Brammer in the fifth.
With the aid of a dropped third strike, Hoffman had four strikeouts in the opening inning, then struck out the Tomcats for all three outs in innings two, three and six.
He fanned two apiece in the fourth and final frames, and faced four batters each in innings two, four and seven.
He also had two defensive assists, with the other two defensive outs being assists by second baseman Colton Arrington.
But besides the 18 Ks, Hoffman found a way to escape several jams.
He stranded seven total Tomcats, including six in scoring position, none more nerve-wracking than with runners on second and third in the sixth with Wahama leading 5-4.
Cody Jones doubled to left to lead off, then scored on an error two batters later.
But Hoffman zoned in, and struck out Kamron Curry — who walked twice and scored a pair of runs — for out number-three.
“Philip kept getting himself out of those (jams). He was sharp for a while, then sometimes he started missing everything low and was sinking a little bit. But he threw the ball well. I love watching him pitch,” said Cullen. “18 (strikeouts) tonight? That saves your defense so much when you don’t have to field that many extra balls.”
Faires said scoring opportunities are few and far between against Hoffman.
“You want to scratch out anything you can against him (Hoffman). They gave us a couple (runs) in the first inning and we just couldn’t carry that momentum on,” said Faires. “When you’re facing somebody like Hoffman…if you would have told me we would have four runs and that many runners left on base and that many chances, I would have been tickled to death.”
Trimble — with Brammer on the mound — took a 2-0 lead into the third, as Hoffman had a single and stolen base in the first before Brammer retired the side 1-2-3 in the second.
But Brammer walked Jared Oliver and Kearns, setting up Jared Nutter knocking them in with a one-out triple to right.
With two outs, Brammer induced Mason Hicks into a fly ball, but it was dropped in right field, allowing Nutter to cross home for the 3-2 Wahama lead.
In the fourth, the White Falcons combined a hit batsman, an E-7, back-to-back walks to Ryan Thomas and Kearns and a wild pitch that Oliver scored on for their 5-2 edge.
At that point, Brammer — despite four strikeouts — was relieved in favor of Andrew Losey, who pitched the final two and two-thirds.
Losey allowed three straight singles to Hicks, Arrington and Dalton Kearns to lead off the fifth, but Wahama had two runners thrown out on the bases.
Still, Faires praised this year’s White Falcons for their improved offense.
“I think Wahama, all around, is better than last year. I think they play a little better defense and they hit better,” he said. “Last year, we could count on maybe getting in a low-scoring game with them. But their offense is pretty good. They put pressure on us and they ran the bases well. That’s a good Wahama team.”
And, that good Wahama team remains on a roll — and atop the TVC-Hocking.
“We make it interesting sometimes. But for the league, this was really big (win for Wahama),” said Cullen.
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106