Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

May 11, 2014

Jackets claim first MEC baseball tourney

BECKLEY — Maybe the players were not quite ready to say good-bye to their legendary coach. Maybe they took Notre Dame College lightly.

Whatever the reason, West Virginia State made Cal Bailey’s last day one everybody will remember.

The Yellow Jackets dropped a 7-3 afternoon decision to the Falcons, forcing a winner-take-all second game for the inaugural Mountain East Conference championship. Devin Bowles and an impromptu bullpen by committee made sure Bailey’s ending was scripted just right.

A solo home run by Cody Smith to start the bottom of the first was trumped only by another sterling State pitching performance, leading to a 4-1 championship win for the Jackets Sunday at Linda K. Epling Stadium.

The win was historic in two ways. One, it made State (34-17) the first-ever MEC baseball champion. Two, and probably most important, it was the 18th and final conference title for Bailey, who is retiring after a 36-year career as the head coach at his alma mater.

Bailey’s career record stands at 1,063-527-4. His win total is the second-best among NCAA Division II active coaches.

After the surprising loss in the first game, State turned to Bowles in the clincher, and he delivered.

The right-hander was perfect through the first four innings, striking out six of the first 12 Notre Dame batters.

The Falcons’ first baserunner came when Bowles’ underhand flip to first on a comebacker by Bryan Blondeaux was too low for an error leading off the fifth.

Blondeaux was stranded there, and Bowles’ day was done after five no-hit innings and only 58 pitches.

“I did it (pitched a no-hitter) in sectionals once, so I knew I could do it,” said Bowles (6-1).

“Bowles told me when I took him out (Thursday) that he had the game on Sunday,” Bailey said.

It was the third time in five games State pitching held the opponent to one run.

“Even when we scored nine runs (a 9-1 win over Concord Saturday night), six runs were unearned. It’s not like we were beating the devil out of the ball.” Bailey said. “I told the pitchers we were going to have to do our part and hope like the dickens that (the offense) can score enough runs.”

State had more than enough offense when it mattered most.

Smith launched a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall off Zach Gresh to put the Jackets ahead 1-0 in the first. A sacrifice fly by Josh Kiser scored Trenton Porter in the fifth to make it 2-0.

State chased Gresh with one out in the sixth, and Jack Hudson greeted Jeff Stover with a first-pitch two-run double to right center. The Jackets led 4-0 and were well on their way to the title.

The Falcons (27-22) were pounded 14-0 by 2013 West Virginia Conference champion Concord on the first day of the tournament.

Right from the start Sunday, Notre Dame showed it was a threat to Bailey’s perfect ending.

The Falcons scored five runs in the first off State starter Eric Roberts.

That was all the Falcons would need behind the pitching of Matt Kastelic (9-5), who allowed just one hit, struck out five and walked two over five scoreless innings.

“We have a bunch of good guys here. They never give up,” said Notre Dame coach Len Barker, a former major league pitcher. Barker was happy for Bailey after the games.

“Cal’s a great guy,” Barker said. “I’ve known him for four years now and became a close friend to him. If we had to lose to somebody, it was great to lose to him and (for him) to win the championship.”

Bailey expressed gratitude of having impacted so many lives since he became the head coach in 1978.

“We’ve had very few guys that have not lived up to their billing,” Bailey said. “It’s invigorating to know that you might have had an effect on somebody.”

“I’m glad (we) could send him out the way he deserves to be sent out,” Bowles said.

“A winner.”

— E-mail: gfauber@register-herald.com and Twitter @GaryFauber

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