CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Put the ball in play, and good things will happen.
If it wasn’t the exact game plan going into Friday morning’s Class AA state baseball tournament semi-final game for North Marion (20-8), that’s what the plan became.
North Marion consistently put the ball in play, forcing the Independence (23-5) to make plays. The Patriots, though, made too many mistakes.
Three Independence errors led to just two of the seven North Marion runs being charged as earned runs.
Five unearned runs cost the Patriots, and vaulted the Huskies to their first-ever high school baseball championship game. 7-2 was the final score.
“We got a couple of timely hits. We forced them to make a couple mistakes, which we took advantage of, and we had to do that,” the Huskies’ skipper said after the game. “We beat a great baseball team this afternoon.”
North Marion jumped on the board first in their first at bat, as Brock Troy drove in the Huskies’ opening run on a single to right field on a full count pitch.
Vic Seccuro’s group scored three more runs in the third — all were unearned.
One Independence error put two runners in scoring position, and a throwing error on a ball put in play by Troy gave North Marion a three-run lead. Bryce Rhoades followed suit with a line drive down the right field line.
The Huskies, making their first-ever appearance in the state tournament, led 4-0 after three innings of play.
Meanwhile, Jace Rinehart was effective on the mound for Seccuro.
Rinehart struck out the side in the first inning, picked up an inning-ending strikeout in the second, and then back-to-back strikeouts to get out of a jam in the third. He registered six strikeouts through three innings.
“When we put those runs up in the first — put a run up in the first inning, I think three in the third, that really made it easy to go out,” said Rinehart afterwards. “We had that confidence that we could play good baseball, and not give up a bunch of runs. That really helped.”
Rinehart tossed 6 2/3 innings, allowing just two runs on six hits, and striking out nine hitters.
“I thought Jace pitched an outstanding game,” his head coach said. “He went the limit in pitches, I think 113, 114. He just pitched outstanding. He sort of took a little bit off his fastball at times just to confuse them, and keep them off balance. I thought he did an outstanding job.”
The Patriots added a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth, cutting the deficit to 4-2. But the Huskies made an immediate response, aided by another costly Independence error.
A tapper in front of the mound hit by Alex O’Neil, which would’ve went for the final out of the inning, was thrown down the right field line by the Patriots’ pitcher. Two runs scored on the play, and that gave the Huskies a 7-2 lead.
“It’s crazy. We’ve been wanting this since we were 12 years old in Little League all-stars. We’ve been wanting this, and we’ve been striving for this, and it’s something that we’ve worked hard for. It’s exciting,” Rinehart said.
North Marion entered the tournament as the No. 4 seed, and with the fewest wins of any team in the tournament.
Despite that, the Huskies took down the top-ranked team in Double-A on Friday, and can continue making school history on Saturday when they take on No. 2 Logan.
Saturday’s Double-A state title game at Appalachian Power Park will start roughly 50 minutes after the conclusion of the Triple-A title game between 1. Hurricane and 3. Bridgeport.