VALDOSTA — Yet again, the Valdosta Wildcats found a way to win.
Valdosta won a hard-fought Region 1-AAAAA baseball battle Friday night, defeating Houston County 3-2 in nine innings.
Will Welch raced home from second on an error in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Wildcats the victory.
“This was as good a win as we’ve had here in a long, long, long time,” Valdosta head coach Bart Shuman said. “I can’t say enough about our team. Everybody contributed. Nobody panicked when they scored the tying run.”
“It’s indescribable,” winning pitcher Will Flail said. “It was a good team effort. We had some key hits in key moments. I had a good defense backing me up. I hate it that someone had to lose.”
The win improved Valdosta’s record to 15-4 this season, and put them in a tie for first in the region at 4-1.
Both teams sent their aces to the mound Friday, and Flail and Houston’s Brian Wilkerson staged a nine-inning pitcher’s duel. Flail allowed 12 hits, but escaped bases-loaded jams three times, and held the Bears to just two runs. Meanwhile, Wilkerson, last year’s region Player of the Year, held Valdosta to just five hits, but two ninth-inning errors proved to be the difference.
“What can you say about Will Flail? He was Superman out here tonight,” Shuman said. “He was just incredible.
“Wilkerson is a great pitcher. (Houston’s) got a great baseball team. This game could have gone either way.”
The game went into the bottom of the ninth tied 2-2, and it looked like it would go another inning when Wilkerson retired the first two batters, then got Welch to hit a routine ground ball to short. But the throw to first was high, and Welch reached safely. Welch stole second, so Houston intentionally walked Brent Turner.
Tuzer Chism came to the plate, and on the first pitch, hit a slow roller towards second. Second baseman Joe Vasquez charged in and threw to first, but the ball hit off the glove of first baseman Alex Blaine, and got away. Welch raced for the plate, and scored without a throw to give the Wildcats the victory.
“All of our guys just battled,” Shuman said.
The win put Valdosta in a tie for first with rival Lowndes, which fell to Tift County 4-3, thanks to a 13-strikeout effort from Tift pitcher Scott Shuman — a former Valdosta player and the son of the VHS coach.
Valdosta grabbed an early 2-0 lead with two runs in the second inning. With one out, Welch lined a double to right field, then Turner followed with a deep fly ball that fell on the warning track in center for an RBI double. Turner took third on the throw home, and scored on Chism’s ground out to second.
Houston made it 2-1 with a run in the third. An error and two singles loaded the bases, then Vasquez hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Wilkerson.
Houston loaded the bases in the first, fourth and sixth innings. But each time, Flail bore down, and escaped without allowing a run.
“They had some bases-loaded situations, and the defense made plays,” Flail said. “The team helped me out a lot.”
The score remained 2-1 going into the top of the seventh. Houston’s Ben Collins walked, then was sacrificed to second. Ryan Beitler singled to left, putting runners on the corners with one out. Mark Irwin hit a fly ball to medium left field, and Collins tagged up and took off for home. Welch fired home, and Turner tried to make a swipe tag. His tag beat Collins to the plate, causing a frustrated Collins to throw his helmet in disgust.
But in trying to make the quick swipe tag, the ball had fallen out of Turner’s mitt, and Collins was safe, tying the score, 2-2.
Valdosta had a chance in the bottom of the seventh, after Welch led off the inning with a double to the fence. But Wilkerson retired the next three hitters. Houston had a man on second with one out in the ninth, but Flail got a pop-up to Chism at first and a ground out to Ryan Danbury at short.
Then came the bottom of the ninth, when the Wildcats won the game.
Welch was the only Wildcat with multiple hits, going 2-for-4 with two runs.