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Cougars in W.Va. AAA final

June 03, 2007|By JOHN O'BRIEN

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - First, Matt Tiano took aim at a fielder. As a result, Jefferson will take aim at another state championship.

Tiano's ninth-inning slap produced a groundball that bounced off Fairmont Senior left fielder Mark Gardner - playing only 45 feet from home plate in anticipation of a bunt - and helped the Cougars plate four runs in a 7-3 comeback win Friday in the West Virginia Class AAA semifinals.

The hit loaded the bases with no outs, leading to RBI hits from Justin Grantham and Drew Stevens and a sacrifice fly from Bobby O'Donnell as the Cougars (33-4) kept trucking toward their goal of a ninth state championship. They will play Woodrow Wilson at 5 p.m. today.

"It was probably the most tense of any game you could play," said Tiano, who went 2-for-5 with a pair of runs. "It could be your last if you don't pull it out."

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With pinch runner Sean Adam - who replaced Stephen Peters after he singled - on second and Colton Gustines - who reached on an infield single that appeared headed for foul ground before catcher Bradley Dodrill picked it up - on first, the Polar Bears (20-17) anticipated Tiano would be bunting the runners up a base.

Fairmont coach Steve Naternicola brought Gardner all the way in from left and placed him halfway up the third-base line.

On Brent Dodrill's 0-1 pitch, Tiano pulled the bunt back and smacked a shot off Gardner, who barely had time to bring his glove up to his waist to defend himself. The ball bounced nearly to Jefferson's dugout on the third-base side.

"There's no point in bunting - he's right there," said Tiano. "They could easily turn two. The slash bunt is a perfect idea. If I hit it remotely hard, there's no way he's going to get it."

As Gardner can attest, Tiano hit it solidly.

"When I saw him come in, I said to myself, 'I gotta put it right in his chest,'" Tiano said. "They put a target up, and I hit it."

"(Bringing a left fielder that far in) has never been done against us, but I've heard of coaches doing it," Cougars coach John Lowery said. "The idea wasn't necessarily to hit one of the guys. The idea was to hit it on the ground, hopefully hard enough that they can't react to it."

With the bases loaded, the Polar Bears sent Gardner back to left and pulled the infield in. Grantham took advantage with a ground-ball single that scored Adam, and Stevens followed with his own grounder through a hole to score Gustines and Tiano.

Stevens' hit chased Dodrill, who threw eight-plus innings and allowed all seven runs. He walked eight and yielded 10 hits - five in the ninth inning.

Dodrill (6-3) threw 149 pitches, 88 for strikes. The senior walked five while battling a blister in Jefferson's three-run sixth inning that tied the game.

Jefferson starting pitcher Jonathan Hash drew a bases-loaded walk for the Cougars' first run, and Kyle Koppenhaver smashed a two-run single down the left field line to tie it at 3.

Fairmont surprised the Cougars with two runs in the third to grab an early lead. Dodrill doubled, Kyle Allard singled and Josh Stewart drove them home with a two-out double to left field.

In the fifth, Drew Retton walked and advanced to third on Allard's single with two outs. Allard created a rundown when he appeared to be picked off first base, and Retton broke for home. O'Donnell's throw home skipped past catcher Wes Kidwell, giving Fairmont a 3-0 lead.

Hash allowed three runs - two earned - and seven hits while walking three and striking out three. He pitched 6 1/3 innings before being pulled in favor of Brandon Campbell.

Campbell was scheduled to pitch today, but will only be available for four innings after throwing 2 2/3 hitless innings on Friday. He gave up one walk.

"You can't play tomorrow if you don't win today," Lowery said.

Campbell's signature moment came in the seventh, when he entered with runners on first and second and one out. He got Stewart to ground out to Hash at first, resulting in a collision from which Hash recovered quickly to make sure Retton only advanced to third.

Gardner then grounded one to O'Donnell, who bobbled it before throwing the diving runner out in a close play.

"(Campbell) has been our No. 2 guy all year," Lowery said. "We're playing to get to a state championship. If we fell short, we had to give it our best shot in doing it."

Stevens and Hash both went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks for Jefferson. Allard was 2-for-4 with a walk and Dodrill was 2-for-5 for the Polar Bears, whose bottom three hitters and leadoff hitter Joseph Buonaiuto combined to go 0-for-14.

Jefferson defeated Fairmont in the state final in 2005. The Cougars have defeated the Polar Bears 14 straight times, including three times this season.

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