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Gustines helps Cougars win another sectional title

May 14, 2006|by ANDREW MASON

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. - While Jefferson senior Corie Gustines didn't exactly put up MVP-like numbers Saturday, each of his four plate appearances was as valuable as any in Game 3 of the best-of-3 West Virginia Class AAA Region II Section 2 championship series against Hedgesville.

With two outs and runners on first and second in the bottom of the seventh inning, Gustines hit a sharp grounder to Eagles third baseman Scott Rhoe, who let the ball go through his legs and into left field. The error - Hedgesville's only one of the game - allowed Brendan McLaughlin to score from second for the winning run as Jefferson prevailed 6-5 for its 11th straight sectional title.

Jefferson (31-5), the defending state champ, will host Hampshire on May 23 in a Region II semifinal.

"It seems like I can always find a way to put the ball in play," said Gustines, who's only struck out twice in nearly 100 plate appearances this season. "It might not be the hardest or farthest hit, but I'm not going to strike out. I'm going to put the ball in play."

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With a sacrifice bunt in the second inning and a groundout to second in the fourth inning, Gustines used each of his first two plate appearances to advance a runner to third. And that runner scored each time on a pair of RBI groundouts by Jonathan Hash as the Cougars took a 2-0 lead.

With two runners in scoring position in the bottom of the sixth and Jefferson trailing 3-2, Gustines tied the game with a one-out RBI single to right - his only hit of the game and just his team's second against Hedgesville starter Logan Clark, who walked seven in his 5 2/3 innings.

"We were down, we were worried, but we came through," Gustines said. "We're playing a lot of team ball right now. We want back-to-back state titles."

With two outs in the sixth, pinch hitters Westley Jenkins and Brandon Piper hit back-to-back RBI singles to give the Cougars a 5-3 lead.

The Eagles (18-14) answered against Jefferson reliever Brian Collins (7-1) in the seventh. Michael Lopez led off with a single, went to second on Collins' errant pickoff attempt and took third on Jesse Simmons' bunt single. After Simmons advanced to second on Jonathan Coulter's sacrifice bunt, Clark tied the game at 5-5 with a two-run single to left - his third single of the day.

The Eagles, however, blew an opportunity when Clark was tagged out at third as he tried to take two bases on another errant pickoff attempt by Collins.

Instead of having a runner on second with one out, the bases were empty with two outs for clean-up hitter Justin Everhart, who struck out to end the inning.

"Twenty-one years of being the blind squirrel and we still can't seem to find the acorn," said Hedgesville coach Ben Merica, whose Eagles have not won a sectional title in his 21 years at the helm.

McLaughlin led off the bottom of the seventh with a single against Simmons (1-1) and took second on Bobby O'Donnell's sacrifice bunt. After Collins - last year's Herald-Mail player of the year - was intentionally walked, Joe Wilt popped out for the second out and Gustines stepped to the plate.

"They made us work for it. There's no question about that," Jefferson coach John Lowery said. "Our hat's off to Hedgesville. They played their best baseball at the end of the season. They have a gutsy group of players."

The Eagles tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth as Lopez hit an RBI single and eventually scored on an error. They took a 3-2 lead in the sixth on Josh Lebo's RBI double.

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