GRANVILLE, W.Va. – In the most exciting game of the season, the West Virginia Black Bears captured the MLB Draft League Championship with a 10-6 victory over the Williamsport Crosscutters on Tuesday evening at Monongalia County Ballpark. With two big innings, the Black Bears completed the comeback after trailing by six runs through 4.5 innings to clinch the league title over the second-half champion Crosscutters.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. We hadn’t played the Crosscutters [since the first half of the season], but our team got out there and executed when it mattered most,” said manager Jedd Gyorko.
Leading off the game, Williamsport jumped on the board in the top of the first with two runs off starting pitcher Zach Bravo. The Bears continued their season-long trend of trailing early as back-to-back doubles by Crosscutters LF Taylor Jackson and RF Connor Denning plated the first run. A third double by DH EJ Taylor scored Denning to give Williamsport a 2-0 lead heading into the home half of the inning.
The Crosscutters added two more runs to their score in the top of the third. A line drive to center field by Denning scored Jackson for the third run with another single by SS Travis Holt plating Denning for a four-run lead.
Digging into his bullpen early, Gyorko sent out RHP Patrick Miner for the Black Bears with no outs in the third. After getting out of the inning with three groundouts, Miner held the Crosscutters scoreless through the fourth as he retired the side. However, Miner gave up two more runs in the top of the fifth on a two-RBI double to center field by Holt. With Jackson and Connor touching home, the Crosscutters took a commanding six-run lead.
As things looked grim for the Bears, the bats suddenly came alive in the bottom of the inning. A lead-off single by catcher JC Santini put a runner on base for SS Tyler Bosetti. A well-hit ball deep into center field by Bosetti scored Santini for the first Black Bears run of the game. Another single by 2B Maddux Houghton put Bears on the corners before Houghton stole second. With two runners in scoring position, MLB Draft League RBI leader Ryan Hernandez added to his tally with a two-RBI single that scored Bosetti and Houghton. After recording the second out, Williamsport starter Jarret Whorff walked LF Adan Fernandez before giving up a single to 3B Jack Elliott that scored Hernandez.
Williamsport manager Jesse Litsch sent in reliever Nick Meyer who got the final out on a strikeout, but not before a double by RF Ruben Fontes scored Fernandez and Elliott. The teams entered the sixth frame tied 6-6.
West Virginia finally took the lead in the bottom of the sixth after plating four runs. Cutters reliever Brandon Kaminer loaded the bases with Bears with three walks just in time for a single by 1B Logan Mathieu to bring home two. West Virginia added another on a balk by Kaminer for a 9-6 lead before a throwing error by Holt allowed Fernandez to score. The Black Bears led the Crosscutters 10-6 going into the seventh.
In a surprising turn, Gyorko tapped RHP Grayson Thurman (1-0, 0.00 ERA) in the sixth inning. Thurman, whose longest outing to date was two innings, entered with two outs in the top of the sixth in relief of Anthony Stehlin. Gyorko’s efforts were rewarded as the pitcher from the University of Lynchburg struck out all 10 batters faced, closing out the game and getting his first win of the season in the Championship.
Two strong innings propelled West Virginia’s offense over Williamsport. The Black Bears tallied 13 hits, with the entire order notching at least one. Maddux Houghton finished his evening after going three-for-four at the plate with two runs, while Tyler Bosetti continued his late-season hot streak with two hits in three at-bats, one run and one RBI.
MLB Draft League statistical king Ryan Hernandez recorded one hit, one run and two RBI, as he finished his lengthy season the league leader in hits (70), runs (44), home runs (14), RBI (46), SLG (.610) and OPS (1.022). Second-half superstar Turner Hill notched one hit and one run, ending the season with a league-leading .391 BA and .463 OBP.
After starting the 2022 campaign 2-10, West Virginia finished the season with a 48-30 record, 2.5 games ahead of second-place Williamsport in the overall standings. The Black Bears won 16 of 26 series with no series losses the entire month of July. West Virginia clinched the first-half title on Friday, July 15, with a 9-4 win over the Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
“It was a good way to end the season,” said Gyorko. “It’s a credit to how this team pulled together [both halves of the season]. We wouldn’t have made it here without clinching the first half title, and this group of guys played every game to win. They deserved it.”