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Midland's Kinker chills Woodrow bats

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While everyone at Appalachian Power Park was sweating it out Friday night in summer-like heat, Seth Kinker barely broke a sweat.

The junior fired a two-hit shutout with eight strikeouts in his first state tournament game to send Cabell Midland past Woodrow Wilson 5-0 in the Class AAA semifinals. A crowd of about 1,500 attended the matchup of state-ranked teams at Appalachian Power Park.

The Knights (24-10), who have won 11 straight and were fifth in the Gazette's final state rankings, will face No. 1 Hedgesville (28-7) at approximately 4 p.m. today in the championship game at the APP.

This was Midland's first appearance at states since losing in the 2006 title game 7-4 to South Charleston. The Knights lone title came in 2003. Hedgesville, which advanced to the final four for the first time since 1974, will be playing in the championship game for the first time.

Kinker needed 84 pitches Friday in the complete-game effort and only faced two batters over the minimum. He sailed through the first four innings with a perfect game and retired the first batter of the fifth before Woodrow sophomore Hunter Halstead doubled off the left-field wall.

"I had fun out there throwing a lot of strikes,'' said Kinker, who tossed a two-hitter with 11 punchouts in an eight-inning shutout against No. 2 Hurricane in the Region 4 semifinals.

"I'm known for pounding the zone, that's my main thing. I've kept the ball down my last four starts [and] I haven't given up a run. That's been the key for me. I knew if we put up a couple of runs I'd do all right on the mound.''

Kinker encountered his first sign of trouble in the top of the seventh when Woodrow senior Cole Williams led off with a single and senior Hunter Greco coaxed a walk on a full-count pitch to put runners at first and second base with none out. Midland coach Tracy Brumfield came out to talk with Kinker, who had several pitches sail wildly high, for a few moments, then Kinker settled back into his groove.

Kinker induced a ground ball from the next batter to force out Williams at third for the first out, then Midland junior first baseman Cody Ballengee snagged a grounder and stepped on the bag for the second out. Kinker then struck out Halstead looking on three pitches to close out the victory.

Kinker still had his aim and plenty of velocity as he fired his glove into the dugout just a few steps off the mound as the Knights began celebrating.

"Perfect throw,'' smiled Kinker. "It kind of landed on the bench. I don't know what it is about me. It seems like every time I do something incredible I do the weirdest things. I holed out one year in golf and I threw my club down and forgot my club and [left it on the ground]. The heat of the moment got to me. I was pumped.''

"He threw a heck of a game,'' Brumfield said of Kinker's performance. "I thought as the game went on he got stronger. His two-seamer was running very well. I was watching him warm up and it'd break at the last second 5 or 6 inches. I thought our kids did a good job of putting the ball in play and making [Woodrow Wilson] make mistakes.''

 Midland, which had no one with multiple hits and only one extra-base hit, gave Kinker all the runs he would need in the second inning, scoring three runs.

Knights sophomore Aaron Elkins sent a run-scoring line-drive double down the right-field line on an 0-2 count, junior Taylor Kuhn singled in a run and freshman Colton Carter, who pinch ran for Elkins, scored on an error. The Knights added two runs in the third when sophomore Jeffery Jobe, who opened the inning getting hit by a pitch, scored on a wild pitch and junior Eric Wooten, the No. 9 hitter, singled in a run. 

"We hit the ball in timely spots,'' said Kinker, whose only blemish was an 0-for-4 performance at the plate. "We've got a great team. We were live in the dugout. We have confidence. We've had confidence for a month and a half now. It was an all-around good effort. We're just having fun.''

After Halstead broke up the perfect game in the fifth he was quickly erased on a double play. Woodrow sophomore Brent Osborne tried to lay down a bunt on the first pitch he saw to lead off the fifth, but Kinker fielded it cleanly, gathered himself and made a on-target throw to first.

Greco, who started for No. 10 Woodrow (20-11), took the loss, allowing four runs (three earned) on four hits with two strikeouts and four walks. Junior Josh Rakes relieved in the third and surrendered just one earned run on two hits in the final 32/3 innings.

A state tourney berth didn't look like a certainty this year for Midland, which started the season with a 4-5 record that included four straight losses. The Knights have won five one-run decisions during their current winning streak.

"We just got together after a game and said, 'Guys, what do we have to lose?,''' Kinker said. We just kept playing and winning. We've earned it. We've had a lot of one-run games where we grinded it out. You couldn't ask for a better group of teammates.''

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.

 


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