Wildcats fall to Riverside in Conference 28 baseball championship

LEESBURG – Warren County High School’s baseball team had its chances against Riverside in Friday’s Conference 28 tournament championship game, but the Wildcats couldn’t piece together enough timely hits to erase an early deficit.

No. 3 Warren County kept things tight with top-seeded Riverside, but stranded 11 total base runners over the final five innings and fell, 6-3, on the road.

The Wildcats will return to action next Tuesday in the first round of the Region 3A East tournament in a road game at Conference 26 champion Spotsylvania.

“First off, hats off to Riverside. They’re a helluva program,” Wildcats head coach Mike Minch said. “Coach (Sam) Plank does a good job and those kids came out here with a game plan and they executed.

“Proud of our guys, man. They fought, they battled. We just didn’t execute when we needed to. And the difference was they executed and we did not.”

Of the Wildcats’ 11 runners left on, eight of them came in the final three innings. The Wildcats (15-6) left the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings and stranded two in the top of the seventh after sending the tying run to the plate with one out. All three innings ended with a strikeout.

Riverside (20-3), meanwhile, scored five of its six runs with two outs.

“Any time you get in a championship environment you know you’re gonna get the best from both teams,” Plank said. “I told our guys, I said Warren County’s 15-5 for a reason. They’re gonna come in, it’s gonna be a fight. We’ve tried to train these guys every day through pressure-filled, pressure cooker practices to be in this moment.”

The Rams, who beat Warren County 8-1 in the Wildcats’ season opener, opened the game with four unanswered runs, the first coming in the bottom of the second inning on Aidan Koferl’s solo home run to left off Wildcat starting pitcher Jacob Dodson.

Riverside made it 4-0 with three unearned runs in the fourth, an inning that was extended on a Warren County error after it was ruled that shortstop Cam Ford’s throw on a grounder by Rams’ No. 9 hitter Sajon Belser pulled first baseman Brendan McMackin off the bag on what would’ve been the final out of the frame.

It was the first of a handful of close calls that fell in favor of Riverside.

“I thought we stayed on the base. The umpire thought differently,” said Minch, who appealed the play – to no avail. “Against good teams, they’re gonna take advantage of mistakes. And they did. They certainly did.”

A wild pitch and Carson Swank’s RBI single gave Riverside a 4-0 lead before the Wildcats finally got out of the fourth and countered with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth.

Warren County senior Aaron Deavers, who had two of the Wildcats’ six hits and reached base safely in all four of his plate appearances, led off the fifth with a walk from Rams starter Trey Campbell and later scored on Cam Ford’s two-out RBI single.

Hunter Wines, who also had a pair of hits, including a double, drew a bases-loaded walk off reliever Wes Glass two batters later to pull the Wildcats within 4-2 before Riverside escaped further damage.

The Rams pushed their lead back to three in the bottom of the inning on Koferl’s RBI double down the left field line.

Koferly, who had two extra-base hits, drove in two runs and scored twice. He led the charge for the bottom half of a Riverside lineup that saw the five through nine hitters combine for four of the team’s five hits, five walks and all six runs scored.

“I kind of sneak them around,” Plank said of his lineup. “I kind of spread people out. And we’ve got so much speed, which kills them. We put so much pressure on people with our speed. Usually we can get a hit-by-pitch, a walk and we beat one out, then we clear the bases. That’s our MO.”

Koferly’s two-out double in the fifth followed a questionable call at second base with two outs on a wild pitch, during which Rams senior Aylon Gerrig was ruled safe despite the ball beating him to the bag.

Warren County also came out on the wrong end of a close play at first on Jacob Good’s RBI ground out in the top of the sixth that came with the bases loaded, and again on a close play at the plate in the bottom half on Ryan Hoehn’s RBI sacrifice fly.

Each call drew a protest from Minch.

“It’s frustrating but that’s baseball, and that’s not the reason we lost this game,” Minch said. “We had plenty of opportunities and we just did not execute, that’s the bottom line.”

Dodson took the loss for Warren County after throwing five innings and allowing five runs (two earned) on five hits, five walks and two strikeouts. In all, three Wildcat pitchers combined to deal seven walks in the loss.

“From a pitching standpoint I think that’s what killed us is the walks,” Minch said. “… I think at times Jacob looked brilliant. Soft contact – I mean he really had them confused up there. Unfortunately when you put people on that’s gonna happen.”

Sophomore right-hander David Setien gave Riverside solid relief over the last two innings, as he got a strikeout to leave the bases loaded in the sixth and struck out the side around a walk and a hit-by-pitch in the seventh.