SHENANDOAH JUNCTION — Jefferson’s baseball team just finished a roller coaster ride it would like to forget about. The Cougars found itself in a very scary situation during this year’s Class AAA, Region II, Section II playoffs.
Jefferson, which had a bye as the top-seeded team, lost a winner’s bracket final to Washington, 4-2, sending the Cougars into an elimination-round game with Hampshire. The situation wasn’t getting any better.
Jefferson struggled with the Trojans, having to rely on a walkoff error in the bottom of the eighth inning to win the game, 2-1.
Then came the rematch with the Patriots on Monday, June 7. Once again, Jefferson struggled, but thanks to a seventh-inning rally, which sent the contest into extra innings, where a walkoff single by Griffin Horowicz in the bottom of the 10th gave the Cougars a 6-5 win.
Jefferson’s win forced an extra game the next day. This one was the biggest scare of all.
Washington jumped out to a 9-2 lead heading in the bottom of the third. Once again, things looked bleak — very bleak. The fact the Cougars seemed on its way to an early-playoffs ending was a real possibility.
Here’s where the longtime experience, and tradition, of Jefferson High School baseball came into play.
The Cougars scored 11 runs over the course of the final four innings, including batting a round in a five-run sixth, battling its way to a 13-10 win and the sectional crown. It’s the 32nd time since the school opened in the fall of 1972 Jefferson has won the sectional title.
John Lowery, the only baseball coach the Cougars have ever known, enjoyed winning the sectional title, but the road Jefferson took in winning this year’s title is one he really doesn’t want to travel on again.
“We can’t rely on those types of comebacks every time,” he said. “The thing that helped us was we got contributions all the way through the lineup. We also got a couple of big hits when we needed them.”
The Cougars (25-3) are now playing in the best-of-3 Region II championship series against the Martinsburg Bulldogs. Jefferson, which swept the Bulldogs in this year’s home-and-home series, needs to win two to advance to the WVSSAC state tournament next week at Charleston.
The Cougars have won 12 Class AAA state baseball championships, the last coming in 2016.
Jefferson routed Martinsburg at Faulkner Park on Monday, April 19, 16-0, but struggled at Shenandoah Junction on Tuesday, May 18, holding off the Bulldogs in the top of the seventh for a 7-6 win.
In the Tuesday, June 8, sectional championship game, Jefferson’s first two pitchers got knocked around.
Starter Zac Rose made it through the first out of the second, but gave up five hits and six earned runs. Sophomre Daquon Shipe worked through the third, allowing three hits and three earned runs.
Lowery brought on Sammy Roberts in the fourth. The move worked.
Roberts two-hit Washington with no earned runs, picking up the win in relief. With the Patriots’ bats contained, the Cougars began their fight to regain the lead.
Trailing 9-2 in the bottom of the third, Jefferson put three more runs up on the scoreboard. Griffin Horowicz singled in a pair of runs. Regan pushed across a run with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Three more runs scored for the Cougars in the fourth, thanks to a two-run home run over the fence in right-center from Cullen Horowicz and a Roberts RBI single. Washington’s lead had been cut to 9-8.
The Patriots added a single run in the top of the sixth on an error before Jefferson made its final push for the win.
Sam Wabnitz doubled in a pair of runs for the Cougars in the bottom of the sixth. Rose had a RBI single. Griffin had a sacrifice fly. Matt Smith had a pinch-hit single.
When the bottom of the sixth was over, Jefferson had taken the lead.
“Matt had a big pinch-hit single for us,” Lowery said.
The Cougars retired all three Washington batters in the seventh, setting off a massive celebration at Sager Field. Lowery and his team breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“We finally got the bats going,” Allinger said of the Cougars’ comeback. “It was a great win.”
Cullen Horowicz, who holds the school record for homers in a single season, said the team’s positive attitude, even when a lead seems insurmountable, has made a big difference.
“This is a pretty tight-knit group,” he said. “We’ve got each other’s back when it gets tough.”
Not playing any baseball last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, added to the determination of this year’s team.
“It was pretty hard, not being able to play last year,” Rose said. “But this team’s got a lot of heart. We came ready to play today.”
Cullen Horowicz and Allinger led Jefferson with three hits. Rose had two hits.
“We just ran out of gas,” Washington coach Collin Nusbaum said. “We battled all year.”
Kobe Smith, Cameron Moore and Ty Broughton each had two hits for Washington. Moore had a triple among the two hits. Smith had a double
The sectional championship game also marked the final game for Nusbaum as coach for Washington (12-16). Shortly after the game, he told the team he was stepping down.
Nusbaum is moving to Charleston, S.C. soon and hopes to coach at a school in that area. He also served as offensive coordinator for Washington’s football team.