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CURRENT STORIES


Lincoln uses 'small ball' for title berth

by Rob Peirce

SPORTS WRITER

CHARLESTON -- Class AA No. 2 Lincoln is used to scoring runs whenever it wants -- usually on the long ball. In Thursday's state semifinal game, it scored when it had to on two hits which stayed in the park.

Herbert Hoover's run in the top of the fifth off Cougars ace Wes Osbourn gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead. If there were ever a time to respond, it was in the bottom half of the inning. Lincoln hadn't been shut out all year, so it was time to start hitting.

"When you're down 1-0 in the state semifinals, you know it's either hit the ball or go home," Jason Richardson said.

"So we got ourselves together and said we had to have one of our Cougar breakout innings."

Although three runs isn't exactly a breakout inning, it was all Osbourn needed. And even though Lincoln didn't get to put on its usual power display, it does get to play for a state championship at noon today against Magnolia.

After Eric Hardesty walked and Seth Williams was hit by a pitch, Osbourn hit a ground ball which barely escaped through the middle of the infield to score Hardesty and tie the game. Richardson sent the next pitch from Huskies starter Adam Myers over right fielder Daniel Turley's head. It rolled to the wall for a double.

There was some mixup on the play -- Osbourn scored from first but was called out on an appeal. But the Cougars already had a 2-1 lead and they did it in a rather unconventional manner -- at least for Lincoln.

In 28 previous games, the Cougars hit 39 home runs. Then they came down to Watt Powell Park, home of the Toronto Blue Jays' Class A affiliate Charleston AlleyCats, with professional baseball dimensions.

"We've been hearing all week that this is a big field, and anything we hit is not going to go out," Richardson said. He finished fourth on the team in home runs with six. "I think we have some guys who can send the ball out here, but we knew we couldn't rely on that. We can't just come out here and rely on a three home run inning like we did against Bridgeport (in the sectional opener) and expect to win. We just had to shorten up our swings a little bit and go for the line drives."

And while it might be harder to hit home runs at Watt Powell than in Shinnston, there are some advantages to playing in such a cavernous park.

"It's easier to get hits on a big field, because you can put it in the gap anywhere," Osbourn said.

Williams did just that in the third inning, with a screaming double to left-center. He was stranded on second, but it took a diving catch by Herbert Hoover second baseman Jamie Prowse off the bat of Richardson to end the inning and leave him there.

On the road to Charleston, the Cougars won several games by swinging from their heels and feasting on the long ball. Once they got there, they knew that wasn't an option.

"These kids have hit some (during the regular season) that really would have gone out of any ballpark," Lincoln coach Tommy Hunter said. "We weren't really going to rely on the long ball. We were going to rely on scoring enough runs for Wes to win. Three runs is what he needed, and that's what we got him."

Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at rpeirce@exponent-telegram.com.