The Richlands baseball team did not mind standing around in a steady rain on the infield at Bowen Field on Saturday evening.
The reason? They were gathered around the championship trophy of the 40th Allen D. Coppinger Jr. Invitational Baseball Tournament.
Michael Horton drove in the go-ahead runs with a seeing-eye single in the top of the seventh to give Richlands its final lead, and the Blue Tornado held off the Princeton Tigers in a grueling bottom half to claim the prestigious area baseball honor with a 4-3 victory.
The Blues’ new head coach, Adam Davis, said that when he arrived at historic Bowen Field, he thought about Richlands’ previous big games in the Coppinger tournament while he was an assistant.
“A little bit of that went through my head,” he said. “But being the head coach now, I was excited, but I tried to stay patient, not get too high and not get too low, just stay calm throughout the whole game. And it was a wonderful feeling to win it.”
Richlands (5-4), playing in the championship about 45 minutes after beating Fayetteville in the semifinals, started River Michaels on the mound. The sophomore gave up eight hits but only two runs — both driven in by Princeton’s Ian Southcott, who was 2 for 4 at the plate.
Michaels said, “I just came in there strong; I knew the boys had my back ... and we just had to give it all we got.”
Princeton (13-8) used their top pitcher, Bo Williams, for the entire game. He threw 115 pitches, striking out 11 and giving up three hits and seven bases on balls.
Tigers head coach Josh Wilburn said, “He gave a winning performance. I can’t ask anything more from Bo in that situation. He walked a few batters there, but really, I felt he pitched good enough to win.
“A young man pitches that well and doesn’t get a win, it’s a shame. But the offensive end, we just didn’t get it done.”
Davis said, “The hits that we had, they did count. We got runners over in spots where we can try to get them home.”
Trailing 1-0 in the top of the fifth, Richlands got two men on base via a walk and a hit batter. Freshman Brandon Waldron knocked both in with a double to the right-field corner.
Davis said Waldron “has been very exciting at the No. 9 spot. He’s just a freshman, and he is a tough out.”
Princeton tied it later that inning on a hit by Andrew Wilson followed by Southcott’s double to deep left field. Southcott tried to score from third base on a passed ball, but Michaels tagged him on a close play at the plate.
A light drizzle turned into a moderate rain soon after, but it did not dampen the excitement.
Michaels was replaced in the sixth by Andy Guerriero. Michaels said, “I was getting a little tired. My arm was getting a little sore ... but we got the ‘W,’ and that’s all that matters.”
The Tigers retook the lead in the sixth when Will Hickman scored on Wilson’s sacrifice fly to right, setting up a dramatic — and long — seventh inning.
Jonathan Cochran and Chase Ray each drew walks off Williams and both raced home on Horton’s knock through the hole between third and shortstop.
Horton said, “Coach told me I’ve got to come through here. Everybody else has done their job and now it’s time for me to do mine.”
“That’s what we needed at the time. I would have walked if I had too, like they did. Then he gave me a good pitch and I took it.”
Princeton kept the pressure on in the bottom of the seventh. Josh Perry and Hickman both got aboard with two-out walks, but Guerriero fanned pinch-hitter Billy Jack Varney to end it.
Davis said, “We definitely had to earn that last out. I thought Andy did a good job. I thought, the two that he walked, that he rang them up there, but the umpire must have thought it was outside.
“But Andy kept a poker face on out there, and pushed through, and threw a ball low and away and got the kid to chase it for strike three, so he definitely had to earn it.”
Horton said, “There was definitely some adversity in that. We started out with a lot of momentum and all of a sudden it changed on us. We struggled real bad and then Andy Guerriero pitched really good and got the call.”
Horton got two of Richlands’ three hits.
Princeton got a 3-for-3 day from Nick Janutolo. Wilson was 2-for-3 and Chris Otey and Southcott were 2-for-4.
Michaels said after the postgame ceremony, “It feels great. Just living the dream. I loved it. I love the game. It’s all I ever dreamed of. ... It was my first championship. It means the world to me. My buddies had my back. It means everything to them.”
Southcott said about Michaels, “He wasn’t bad. He was throwing a lot of strikes, and we were putting it into play, but we were hitting it right at them, pretty much.”
He said reaching the tournament finals “means a lot. We’re out here, working hard after school every day. It means a lot to us, as a team.”
Wilburn said the Tigers made a “good effort” but lamented their mental mistakes.
“The bunting really hurt us tonight, not being able to get down bunts in moments where we had an opportunity to really pull ahead and win the game. ... It’s things like that that separate the really good teams from the average teams.”
“Richlands is a good team, and if you go up there and make a mental mistake, and they capitalize on it, it just gives them the opportunity to get back in the ballgame.”
“Overall, we battled, and that was good for our kids to be able to be put in that situation. It’s going to help us down the road. But we just didn’t play good enough to win.”
Before the raindrops were wiped off the championship trophy, Davis already had plans for it. “We’re going to take it back to the school and we’re going to display it for everyone to see,” he said.
Richlands scored in the seventh to win 4-3 for the second day in a row, and Guerriero was the winning pitcher in relief in both the Coppinger finale and in Friday’s district victory against Marion.
Princeton will play next in the Mountain State Athletic Conference tournament on Monday and Tuesday — and then will play Richlands again on Wednesday at Southwest Virginia Community College.
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Bowen Field
Richlands............000 020 2 — 4 3 3
Princeton............001 011 0 — 3 9 0
River Michaels, Andy Guerriero (6) and Zach Yates. Bo Williams and Addison Wood. WP - Guerriero. LP - Williams. Leading hitters: RHS: Michael Horton 2-3, 2 RBI; Brandon Waldron 1-3, double, 2 RBI. PSHS: Nick Janutolo 3-3; Andrew Wilson 2-3; Ian Southcott 2-4, double, 2 RBI; Chris Otey 2-4.