By PHIL PERRY
Coal Valley News
CHARLESTON - Frankfort's Chandler Rhodes hit a routine fly ball to the Scott outfield that was misplayed in the eighth inning to give the Falcons a 3-2 win over the Skyhawks in eight innings Friday night at Appalachian Power Park and send Frankfort to Saturday's Class AA championship game against Bridgeport.
Tied at 1 after the regulation seven innings, Scott took a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth when Aaron Epling led off the inning with a single and moved to third on a single by Nathan Kuhn. Carter Lyles then blasted a double to dead center field to plate Epling, but Kuhn was thrown out at home trying to score from first.
"When you blow a lead like that late in the game with two outs and nobody on and you don't make the plays to close it out, it is tough," Scott coach Brett Kuhn said. "I think the story of the game came down to missed opportunities on our part. We couldn't overcome some things that cropped up during the course of the game."
Kuhn said that his team's defense was good all season long, but at times on Friday, it was not. The Skyhawks uncharacteristically made three errors, two in the final frame.
"I've said all year long that I'd put our defense up against anyone in southern West Virginia," he said. "Frankfort put the ball in play and they challenged our defense and I give them a ton of credit."
The coach praised his ace on the mound, as his team outhit the Falcons 11-2 but lost the game.
"Carter (Lyles) threw a phenomenal game," Kuhn said.
Lyles, who started on the mound for Scott and returned after a six-hour rain delay, remained in the game to try to shut the door on the Falcons. After fanning two batters and giving up a single to Zack Whitacre, Lyles reached his pitch limit and Aaron Adkins entered the game in relief with Frankfort's Caleb Hare at the plate.
Whitacre swiped second before Hare reached on an error that scored Whitacre to tie the game 2-2. Hare then stole second base and scored the game-winning run when Rhodes' misplayed fly ball fell in.
Frankfort (27-5) faced five-time defending champion Bridgeport (30-7) in the Class AA title game Saturday evening. Bridgeport defeated Shady Spring 9-2 in Friday's first semifinal.
"It's a roller coaster of emotions and the kids battled back after the long [rain] delay with two outs and nobody on base and I knew that if we could get Zack [Whitaker] and Caleb [Hare] up at the top of the order we'd have a shot," said Frankfort head coach Matt Miller.
Miller stuck with his starter Hare after the long delay.
"We discussed it in the hotel and coming from the side [arm] is different than coming over the top and he's been a battler for us and he earned that right."
The finale ruined a 14-strikeout, two-hit performance from Scott's Lyles.
Originally scheduled for Thursday and postponed by rain until Friday, the game pitted two senior starters in Lyles (8-1, 1.02 ERA) for the Skyhawks and Hare (11-1, 0.97 ERA) for the Falcons.
Lyles, a West Virginia University signee, struck out 14 and allowed just two hits in 7 2/3 innings for Scott (28-8).
Before the rain delay, Scott scored first in the top of the third when Hunter Eplin walked and Epling reached on a single. Isaac Miller then hit a dribbler back to the mound and a throwing error to third loaded the bases for the Skyhawks with no outs.
The next batter, Kuhn, hit a ground ball to second where the only out was made and Scott led 1-0 as Eplin scored. The inning ended when Lyles struck out and was called for interference when Kuhn attempted to steal second base.
The fifth inning started with a rain delay and the infield was covered with Scott clinging to its 1-0 lead.
Play resumed at 7:15 p.m. with Hare and Lyles returning to the mound.
Kuhn, who led the Skyhawks in hitting in 2019 at a .560 clip, led off the top of the sixth with a sharp single to right. He was later called out on an attempted steal of second base as Lyles struck out at the plate and was called for interference for the second time in the game. To end the inning, Peyton Brown looked to leg out a double to the gap and was gunned down at second on a relay throw from the outfield.
In the bottom of the sixth, Hare reached second on an error, stole third and scored when Rhodes brought him home with a sacrifice fly to right field to tie the score at 1-1.
Nathan Kuhn said that the loss didn't dampen his thoughts about the team he went to battle with in his prep career.
"This team, the pride we played with all season was amazing," he said. "We played hard today and just came up a little short. I wouldn't trade these guys for anything."
Senior Isaac Miller echoed his teammate's sentiment.
"We are a hard-working team," he said. Most teams start working in February or March and we started in October and we didn't look back. It's hard when you let one game dictate your whole season and we shouldn't do that. We had a really good year."
A. Epling - 4-for-4, I. Miller - walk, N. Kuhn - 2-for-3 RBI, C. Lyles - 1-for-4 double RBI, P. Brown - 2-for-4, D. Bowman - 1-for-2, T. Short - 1-for-2,
Z. Whitacre - 1-for-4, C. Rhodes - 1-for-3
C. Lyles - 7.2 IP 2 hits, 0 ER, 14 Ks, 2 walks
A. Adkins - 0 ER
C. Hare - 8 IP 11 hits, 1 ER 5 Ks, 2 walks