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Lincoln holds off Ritchie

by Chris Errington


SHINNSTON -- With scheduled starting pitcher Jackie Williams sick and his replacement, Ryan Nuzum, ineffective, Lincoln coach Frank Lopez needed to look no further than right field to find relief.

In a game dominated by hitting, Jimmy Riley was the calming force.

The sophomore tossed four innings of shutout relief to lead the Cougars to a 10-9 victory over Ritchie County Monday in a Class AA Region I, Section 3 first-round game.

With its 10th win in 11 games, Lincoln improved to 16-11 and earned a winner's-bracket matchup with Liberty today. Game time is 5 p.m. in Shinnston.

"Riley did a heck of a job slamming the door on them today," Lopez said. "He was just what the doctor ordered."

Throwing nothing but fastballs, Riley retired the first eight batters he faced and allowed just three Rebels to reach base via a single and two walks.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, those three batters reached consecutively, setting up the biggest at-bat of the game.

With the Cougars' one-run lead in jeopardy with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth, Riley threw a 2-2 pitch past Ritchie County third baseman Shawn Cunningham to end the threat.

"I was really tired, but I knew I had to just suck it up," Riley said of the critical pitch.

"All the players picked me up. And with the good Lord, you can't lose with that team," Riley commented.

Lincoln actually trailed 6-0 after two innings thanks to a two-run Chuck Cunningham home run in the first and Ritchie County starting pitcher Danny Haddox's grand slam to center in the second.

"I think we were a little surprised at how they jumped on us early," Lopez said.

"But the kids thought they were going to win this game, even when we were down. I guess when you're playing good, you find a way to win," Lopez said.

Lincoln began its comeback with Adam Pratt's two-run homer highlighting a three-run third, then scored five more in the fourth to take an 8-6 lead and chase Haddox.

The see-saw battle continued when the Rebels scored three times in the fourth to take a 9-8 lead and force Nuzum from the game.

But, from then on, it was all Lincoln.

Danny Hardesty's mammoth two-run homer to center a half inning later gave the Cougars the lead for good.

And, other than Snodgrass' at-bat, Lincoln was never threatened again.

"We've been a day late and a dollar short all year," Ritchie County coach Mike Robison said, "and today was no different."

Clarence Fiber paced Lincoln's 15-hit attack, going 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Hardesty, Chris Feathers, Roy Sampson, Pratt and Riley all added two hits apiece.

Lincoln will pitch Pat Moore in today's game against the Mountaineers, but Lopez knows no matter how well he does, his team must do a better job of driving in runs.

"The kids did a good job of getting hits today, but we left too many men on base," Lopez, whose team stranded 11 runners Monday, said. "If we play like this against Liberty, we'll be going home early."

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