By Stephen Smoot
One of the most remarkable stories from boys’ sports in Pendleton County this year has come from the emergence of Chase Owens. On the football field, he could get the tough yards on offense or the big hit on defense. On the basketball court, he could hit the key outside shot in a pressure situation or shut down an opponent completely.
And now, still officially a freshman, Owens just walked into the post season and pitched a shutout to help to keep his team alive.
He took the mound on a perfect spring day, blue skies, and nearly no breeze to stir the pleasantly warm air.
Tucker County opened the game in their half of the first by going down in order. Owens got the first out on a softly tapped ball toward first, then struck the last two batters out.
Unlike many of the games against the Mountain Lions this year, Pendleton County faced a team ready to play. Their pitcher did not surrender runs easily. Their defense did not give away opportunities with too many mistakes. It only took four batters for them to retire the Wildcats in a scoreless first.
In the bottom of the second, Brayden Beachler hit a one out line drive to centerfield. Owens then drew a walk. With runners on first and second, Cashton Kisamore nudged the ball toward third base. Hustling baserunning and the ball going out of play gave the Wildcats a run in and runners at second and third with one out. Dillon Smith then laid down a bunt that put in the second run of the inning, but Tucker County was able to close down the side 2-0.
The Mountain Lions threatened in the top of the third, starting with a one out walk. The baserunner stole second, then third. He reached third despite being caught in a rundown, but the umpire called interference and ruled him safe.
No matter. Owens got the next batter to strike out. The final out came as Caleb Armentrout caught a screaming line drive.
Dustin Vandevander led off the bottom of the third with a line drive to left field. He flew around the bases and slid into third for a triple, beating the throw by mere inches. The Tucker County pitcher gave up a lot of hard hit balls, but managed to keep the game under control. Clayton Kisamore then drove Vandevander in with a sacrifice RBI to extend the lead to 3-0.
The top of the fourth saw more great pitching and defense from Pendleton County. After getting another weak ground ball for the first out, Armentrout once again stole a sure base hit from Tucker County with great reactions on a line drive hit his way. Tucker County picked up another base hit, but Owens stranded him with a strikeout to end the inning.
The top of the fifth saw more defensive highlights from the Wildcats. The initial batter popped a ball sharply toward the gap between first base and the pitcher’s mound. Owens leapt in the air and dove toward first, making a spectacular catch. Though he walked the next batter, the Mountain Lions went down in the rest of the inning.
As the game wore on, clouds in the east showed a little sound and fury that ended up signifying nothing. The thunder, thankfully, continued to come from the home team instead of the sky. Vandevander led off the bottom of the inning with a standup double, followed by a Clayton Kisamore infield single. Vandevander stole third to set up a sacrifice fly hit by James Vincell to deep right field, giving the Wildcats their final run of the day.
The top of the sixth saw Tucker County once again threaten to score by getting a man on, but the baserunner gave away the last out by getting caught stealing on a laser beam throw from Vincell.
Tucker County got the Wildcats to go in order in the bottom of the sixth and remained within shouting distance of the lead going into the seventh. The first out was a ground ball to second, a difficult play made to look easy by the very busy Armentrout. Owens himself stole a line drive from the air for the second.
The final out of the game, however, was all Owens. Although he was the starter who went the distance with almost a major league pitch count, Owens pitched the final out like a classic fireball closer. He popped the first pitch into the glove. Strike one. Then the second went across for an 0-2 count.
Finally, the last pitch. Owens didn’t try to tease the batter into chasing a pitch outside. He gunned the final pitch past the batter for strike three and closed out a big sectional win for Pendleton County.
The Wildcats advanced to game 3 in sectional play and were scheduled to play Tuesday at Petersburg.