STRINGER Hamilton had two chances to beat Stringer pitcher Joey Ward Saturday in the Class 1A state championship series. The Lions needed more.
Ward threw 165 pitches in two games as Stringer (22-8) came back from a 1-0 deficit to win the series 2-1 and claim its fourth state title. The 11-1 and 10-4 losses ended Hamilton’s 15-game winning streak against 1A opponents to leave the Lions with a 23-8 record.
“These two teams were evenly matched,” said Ward, a senior. “It was just a matter of heart, and I reached back one last time.”
After holding Hamilton to one hit in the first game Ward started the series finale.
Ward, who earned both victories, finally gave way to Rusty Garrett in the sixth with Stringer up 5-3.
Hamilton’s Josh West greeted Garrett with a home run to deep center field on the second pitch. It was West’s second home run of the day.
“I was glad to see Ward leave. It just wasn’t soon enough,” Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest said.
Hamilton had three hits in the inning. But pinch runnner Greg Lackie was thrown out at the plate on an attempted squeeze play, and Garrett struck out the side to end the threat with a slim 5-4 advantage.
Garrett got the runs right back in the bottom of the sixth with a two-RBI double that keyed a five-run inning to put Stringer in front for good at 10-4. Hamilton made two of its six errors in the inning.
“They got some bloop hits to fall and then started to hit the ball sharp,” Earnest said. “I am extremley proud of our guys for the way they played all year. This is the first time since 1980 our school has made it to a championship series, so that is quite an accomplishment.”
Garrett got the final Hamilton batter to fly out and secure the win for tradition rich Stringer, which has appeared in the playoffs 13 straight seasons.
“I am very happy for Joey (Ward) and Rusty (Garrett), because they are seniors and I wanted them to experience this feeling,” Stringer coach Don Sauls said.
Hamilton’s Tigers roared out with two men, Richard Hass and Brandon Kennedy, on base courtesy of Stringer errors in the first inning. Senior shortstop Tracey Cockerham, the winning pitcher of the series opener in Hamilton, drove in Hass with a sacrifice fly.
West blasted his first homer to score two runs and set off a celebration from the large group of Hamilton fans in the crowd of over 700.
Stringer chipped back for one run in the bottom of the second and then scored two each in the third and fifth innings.
Stringer 11, Hamilton 1: Hamilton’s West started out pitching as hot as the 92 degree tempartures in the first game, but the Stringer Red Devils had no problems with the heat.
West struck out the first three batters he faced and then got the game’s first hit, a single, to lead off the second inning. Lion courtesy runner Greg Lackie moved to third on two wild pitches. Then Hamilton catcher Chris George grounded out to drive Lackie in for a 1-0 lead.
That lead lasted until the second when Stringer sent nine men to the plate after the first hitter, Garrett, drove a home run over the left field fence. Three walks and two errors by Hamilton fueled Stringer’s five-run rally.
Ward went the distance, striking out eight.
“He had a very good curve ball and an above average fastball,” said George, Hamilton’s catcher.
The fifth inning was the final blow for Hamilton. West threw 11 straight balls and walked in one run. Sringer reached the 10-run rule to close out the game when two runs scored on a Hamilton error.
Stringer 11, Hamilton 1
Hamilton 010 00 1 1 4
Stringer 050 06 11 6 2
WP – Joey Ward (9-2). LP – Josh West (6-3). Multiple Hits – (S) Brante Hester 2; 2B – (S) Duane Hester; HR – Rusty Garrett.
Stringer 10, Hamilton 4
Hamilton 300 001 0 4 4 6
Stinger 012 025 x 10 8 2
WP – Joey Ward (10-2). LP – Richard Hass (6-2). Multiple Hits – (H) Josh West 2, (S) Rusty Garrett 2; 2B – (S) Garrett 2; HR – (H) West 2. Records: Hamilton 23-8, Stringer 23-8.
Notes: West hit his 10th and 11th home runs of the year in the second game… The first game finished in one hour and 48 minutes. Hamilton only loses four seniors from this Class 1A state runner-up squad for next season.