COLUMN: Morgantown takes its style of old-school baseball all the way to Charleston

Fans of old-school baseball rejoice!

While the professional game has become ever-more obsessed with exit velocities, launch angles and spin rates, there still exist baseball fields in the country upon which the core tenets of America’s pastime are being practiced.

Batters choke up with two strikes instead of swinging out of their shoes, teams lay down bunts to move runners over and put pressure on the defense and starting pitchers go deep into games, getting stronger with the more pitches they throw.

Where, you ask, are these games where fundamentals are king and games are not won or lost simply because of how hard you can hit the ball, but by when and how you hit it?

This week, those games were played on the fields at Bridgeport High School and Mylan Park in the Class AAA Region I championship series between Morgantown and Bridgeport.

The Mohigans and Indians put on a veritable clinic of fundamental baseball across the best-of-three series, which the Mohigans won with a 4-1 victory at Bridgeport on Wednesday. 

Pitchers threw strikes, hitters put the ball in play and fielders made outs, the way it’s supposed to be.

It started on Monday with Bridgeport winning a pitchers’ duel 2-1 in which the Indians’ infield turned three double plays.

“The pitching and defense for high school baseball was marquee,” MHS coach Pat Sherald said after the game.

Morgantown loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the fourth, but Bridgeport third baseman Dylan Duvall snared a line drive and dove back to the bag for a double play. The next MHS batter struck out to end the threat.

After seceding two runs, one earned, in the second inning, MHS starter Dylan Travinski, the OVAC Class 5A player of the year, got better the deeper he went into the 105-pitch outing. From the third inning onward, Travinski only allowed two base runners over the final four frames. 

“That is what we’ve seen all year out of him,” Sherald said. “That’s why we gave him the ball in (game) one. To win these games, you’ve got to have quality starts and he gave us a chance.”

Strong starting pitching was the theme for Morgantown throughout the series. The action shifted north to Mylan Park in Morgantown for game two and the Mohigans gave the ball to senior left-hander Hunter Dakan, who turned in another complete-game performance.

Dakan allowed just two hits across seven full innings, walking three and plunking two on 101 pitches. 

Tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth, MHS second baseman Koa Silvers found himself at the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. With two strikes, the sophomore choked up on his bat and fisted a pitch back up the middle to score two and put the Mohigans ahead.

“With two strikes, you battle, simplify it,” Silvers said. “(When you) put the ball in play, good things happen.”

Good things also happened in the next inning when catcher Caleb Nutter came up with two outs and runners on the corners. Instead of trying to pull the ball, the left-handed Nutter sent a pitch the other way, over the head of Bridgeport’s left fielder for a two-run double.

“An outstanding job of hitting with two strikes,” Sherald said. “And then Caleb Nutter, a senior, gets behind one and drives it to the opposite field for two big RBIs.”

The winner-take-all game three belonged to Morgantown senior Tristan Milik. The third piece of what has been a sensational starting trio for the Mohigans, Milik turned in yet another strong outing on the mound. After laboring through a 30-pitch bottom of the first in which BHS scored its only run, Milik allowed just five base runners across the next five-plus innings, working into the seventh on 107 pitches.

“We knew what we had in the pitching,” Sherald said. “We knew that we were going to be able to be very competitive on the mound and that’s what they did.”

“We held them to three earned runs in the entire series,” Milik said. “I just knew I had to go out there and do my job.”

Milik also did his job at the plate, driving in Silvers to tie the game in the top of the third and then adding an insurance run in the top of the fifth to put MHS up 3-1. 

Milik finished the three-game series 4 for 10 at the plate, driving in a run in each game with four total RBI. Silvers was 4 for 9 across the three games, scoring two runs and driving in two. He laid down three bunts in the process.

“We are who we are, that’s what we say,” Sherald said. “We found ways to score runs and fortunately, we scored more runs than them.”

Now, the Mohigans will play in their first state tournament since 2016 and just their second since the 1970s. Morgantown will play at GoMart Ballpark in Charleston on the first day of the tournament on Thursday. A win will put MHS into the state championship game on Saturday.

While the Mohigans don’t exactly hit the cover off the ball, if they can pitch and field as well as they did against Bridgeport, they’ll have as good a chance as any.

“Starting pitching is all about winning championships,” Sherald said. “You have to have good starting pitching and that’s where we’ve been giving ourselves a chance.”

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