By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It took more than a week, the removal and then return of fans from their seating section, and a questionable balk call, but the Princeton Tigers endured to the end and defeated the Greenbrier East Spartans 4-2, Friday night to win the Class AAA Region III, Section 2 championship.
The game began Thursday, a full week from when the teams split the first two games of the series. East (15-10) sat down the Tigers (16-10) in order then came the thunder, lightning and eventually rain that pushed the game to Friday.
As the teams took infield there were darkened skies all around Spartan Field, but the elements held off and the teams were able to resume the action.
“That’s the toughest section we’ve competed in over the last four years that I have been here,” said Princeton head coach Josh Wilburn. “That was a tough one there.”
Addison Wood was on the hill for Princeton and he walked leadoff batter Jacob Frantz and Heath Utterback laid down a sac bunt to move Frantz to second. However, two ground balls to second baseman Andrew Wilson got the Tigers out of the inning.
Ryan Windon, Greenbrier East’s ace, returned after starting the game on Thursday. He retired Princeton in order in the second and gave up a one-out single to Nick Janutolo in the third.
A ground ball that deflected off Windon was turned into a 1-6-3 double play and the Spartans had faced the minimum number of Tigers through three.
Greenbrier East drew first blood in the bottom of the third. Talman Hylton singled past the diving Wilson at second for the Spartans’ first hit. Frantz reached on a fielder’s choice that erased Hylton and Utterback singled to right.
Frantz rounded third and managed to slide under the throw from Janutolo in right field to score the game’s first run.
It remained 1-0 until the fifth when Will Hickman, with two out, was hit by a pitch and Janutolo drew a walk.
Brett Wall hit a sharp single to center that scored Hickman to tie the game, but Janutolo was thrown out after rounding second too far and unable to return safely, ending the inning.
Meanwhile Wood was sharp against Greenbrier East. He retired the side in order in the fourth and in the fifth, despite giving up a hit and a walk, the Spartans did not score.
Controversy came in the inning when after Hylton drew a walk, the home plate umpire made all the Princeton fans seated in the section of bleachers between the Tigers’ dugout and home plate move.
The game was delayed for about eight minutes while every fan left his or her seat and moved to the other side of the Princeton dugout. After doing so, they were then allowed to move back and the game proceeded.
“It’s very unfortunate things like that have to happen,” Wilburn said. “Really what happened was I was questioning where, not balls and strikes, but there they were off the plate and the comment was made, ‘You also need to control your fans.’
“It’s very hard for a head coach to control the game itself and your dugout, more or less control your fans, especially in a sectional championship with so many people here. How do you do that? It got a little bit out of hand. When I came off the field I thought it did swing things a little bit. It did change the game.”
Greenbrier East head coach Eric Morgan said, “I wish it wouldn’t have happened. The fans, that’s part of the game everywhere you go. Obviously I can’t comment on anything like that. Fans are going to be there and they are going to be at every game.
“I think that particular situation changed the momentum of the game, kind of riled up their players when they weren’t really riled up. Our pitcher was throwing well at the time, then we have the pause and it stink that it happened.”
Princeton struck gold in the sixth. Bryson Allen singled to right and Wilson laid down a beautiful bunt, fielded by East third baseman Untterback. His throw sailed into center field and all hands were safe at second and third.
Enter Ian Southcott who tripled to deep right-center sending the tying and go ahead runs home. Southcott later scored on Wood’s sac fly to center to make it 4-1.
“You play small ball, it puts a lot of pressure on teams if you can do it well,” Wilburn said. “We haven’t done it that well. We haven’t bunted that well, but he (Wilson) was able to get a decent bunt down, which made them turn and make a play and we got lucky that the error was made and Ian came up and got the hit.”
Greenbrier East came out pumped in the bottom of the sixth. Harrison Martin singled to center to lead off the inning and moved to second on R.J. Massie’s tapper to the pitcher.
Ethan Level’s single just inside the third base bag put runners on the corner and Morgan called on Josh Zeboskey as a pinch hitter. With Zeboskey at the plate, a balk was called on Wood, sending Martin to the plate and moving Level to second.
Wood then proceeded to strike out Zeboskey and Jonathan Carr to end the inning.
Wall picked up his second hit, a one-out single to left and Wilson drew a two-out walk as Princeton attempted to rally in the seventh. East turned to Zeboskey who walked Southcott to load the bases before getting Wood to fly out to left.
Fans from both sides were boisterous as the teams went to the bottom of the seventh. Wilburn went to the bullpen for Bo Williams and Williams walked the first two batters of the frame.
Following a mound conference, Frantz hit a sharp grounder to Wilson at second who tagged Hylton running from first and threw to first to retire Frantz and complete the double play.
The Tigers were not out of the woods however. Utterback worked the count and drew a walk sending Martin to the plate. The East shortstop fouled off four pitches and then looked at a called strike three and Princeton was able to claim the sectional championship.
Wood picked up the win as he worked six innings, gave up two runs on five hits, walked one and struck out three. Williams picked up the save in his one inning on the mound.
Windon was dealt the loss. He pitched six-and-two-third innings, gave up four runs, three of which were earned, on six hits, walked two and fanned three.
Wall, Princeton’s designated hitter, had two hits, while Allen, Josh Perry, Janutolo and Southcott also had safeties. All were singles with the exception of Southcott’s two-run triple.
Greenbrier East batters managed five hits scattered among five different players.
“You can’t blame an error on the game although it did change the score,” Morgan said. “We had opportunities and we didn’t execute. In baseball that is what it is, a game of execution and those that do it the most typically win.
“Any time you lose at home it’s tough and any time you lose a sectional championship it’s even harder, especially when you have opportunities.”
The Tigers will take on Woodrow Wilson in Beckley, Monday in a Region III semifinal game.
“Woodrow Wilson on Monday up there? It’s always a tough battle,” Wilburn said. “And when you go from a three-game series to a one-game shot anything can happen.”
At Spartan Field
Princeton………...000 013 0 — 4 6 0
Greenbrier East....001 001 0 — 2 5 1
Addison Wood, Bo Williams (7) and Josh Perry, Wood (7). Ryan Windon, Josh Zeboskey (7) and Jacob Frantz. W-Wood, L-Windon. HR-none.