White’s slam puts Hoover in title tilt

CHARLESTON – The quietest player on Herbert Hoover’s baseball team made the loudest statement in the Class AA State Tournament semifinals on Thursday night.

Hunter White, inserted in the No. 3 spot because of a hand injury to Ryan Shamblin, hit an 0-1 pitch over the left-field fence for a grand slam, giving the Huskies a dramatic 7-3 victory over Independence (19-9).

The win places Hoover (30-4) in Saturday’s 10 a.m. Class AA championship against Fairmont Senior (28-6), which defeated Bridgeport 9-6 in the earlier Class AA semifinal.

“It wasn’t too much pressure,” said White, who hadn’t hit a homer this season. “I didn’t know it was out (off the bat).”

The ball carried over the left-field fence two pitches after Independence issued an intentional walk to Matthew “Scooter” Farmer to load the bases and set up a force out at the plate.

White, the younger brother of James White – who played on Hoover’s 2007 state championship team – was Hoover’s third shortstop of the game because of a bruised hand suffered by starter Shamblin and the temporary loss of starting pitcher Tristan Fields. Fields took a line drive off his right ankle in the top of the first inning and left the game, only to return in the fourth.

While he didn’t take the mound – No. 2 starter Cody Bowen gave up only one unearned run in 6-1/3 innings – Fields singled on the first pitch after spending three innings in the dugout.

That set Hoover’s lineup changes in motion. Shamblin started at short, but left, putting Matt Justice at shortstop. When Fields went down, White moved from second to short.

Independence got to Fields early, scoring one run before his injury and a second on the hit that caused it.

Bowen came in and threw 73 pitches with six strikeouts and no walks.

He sat down the Patriots in order in the second, third, sixth and seventh innings.

“It was unexpected, but you always have to be ready for what happens in a baseball game,” said Bowen, who was expected to start the title game and improved his record to 7-1.

“We had a few players hurt and our lineup got mixed up, our players got mixed up in the field and we still came out and gave it everything we had.”

Independence pitcher Kevin Sexton was cruising, giving up two unearned runs in the fifth inning. With the Patriots still leading 3-2, Sean Craze led off the seventh by reaching on an error. Sexton fell behind in the count 2-0 after a close call on his second pitch.

Coach Scott Cuthbert went to the mound to “settle him down.”

“We were just trying to settle him down a little bit and get him to focus back in there,” Cuthbert said. “He was getting a little emotional, but he got us here and I thought he pitched really well tonight.”