By Stephen Smoot
On a day honoring Raymond Strapp, former East Hardy baseball coaching great, Pendleton County traveled to Baker to meet a familiar foe in the Cougars. The Wildcats came in with a newly minted ninth place ranking in West Virginia Metro News while East Hardy boasted a three-game win streak prior to the contest.
The teams played the game initially under warm, bright blue early spring skies. As the sun went down, however, temperatures dropped from the low 70s into the mid-50s.
The Cougars established themselves from the start, getting the Wildcats to go down in order in the top of the first inning. They struck first in the home half of the inning by getting the leadoff batter to walk. He then stole second to get in scoring position and was knocked in on a slow roller to third.
In the bottom of the second, East Hardy did most of its damage. The inning started positively with a pop out to shallow left field. Chase Owens pitched well, getting East Hardy to tap the ball softly in the infield for the most part, but fell victim to a series of unfortunate events. Many hit balls by the Cougars found “no man’s land” areas between fielders. Others were hit sharply at fielders who used their body to knock the ball down, but could not get the throw and the hitters legged out the play. Conversely, much of the game Pendleton County hit the ball hard, but right at East Hardy players.
The second batter of the inning drew a walk, followed by a ground ball toward second that left all safe at the corners. East Hardy scored their second run on a steal attempt that went awry for the Wildcats, then a third run on a weak ground ball to first. The Cougars scored a fourth run on a two out seeing-eye single that threaded the needle inches between Clayton Kisamore and Dillon Smith’s outstretched gloves.
A stand up triple and a ground ball to short helped the Cougars add two more runs to give them a 6-0 lead after two complete innings.
East Hardy struck again in the bottom of the fourth, but it could have been much worse. The first batter was hit and the second walked, leading to Cameron Beachler appearing to pitch. He got the next batter to hit into a 5-4-3 double play, leaving a runner at third. The next Cougar hit a line drive to the short corner in left field. A run scored, but the distance allowed the Wildcat fielder to throw the runner out trying to slide into third.
As the temperatures got colder, Pendleton County bats got hotter. The top of the sixth saw Kisamore hit for a stand up double. A James Vincell seeing-eye single to third put runners at the corners. Two batters later, Beachler hit a towering fly ball to centerfield, scoring Kisamore and earning his team their first run of the game.
Next, Dustin Vandevander drew a walk to load the bases. Jayden Roberson then fired a shot into left field that scored three runs and left him at second on a stand up double.
Coach Sam Yokum then called on Caleb Armentrout to pinch hit and continue the inning. He worked an 0-1 into a 3-2 count, then drew an apparent walk that was negated by the umpire’s call. The next pitch struck him out and retired the side, as well as halting the burgeoning Wildcat momentum.
Beachler retired the bottom of the sixth in four batters to set up Pendleton County’s final opportunity to grab the win. Owens legged out an infield single, but he could not advance past that and East Hardy retired both the side and the game.