Lower Sussex takes state
“Coach [Conover] asked me if I wanted to bunt or drive it, and I told him I could hit it to the outfield,” said Lower Sussex Junior League third baseman Cory Showalter following the team’s dramatic 3-2 win over M.O.T. (Middletown-Odessa-Townsend) for the Delaware State Championship on Aug. 1.
The game was at an impasse, and neither team would budge until the bottom of the third inning when Showalter blasted a three-run home run that would eventually win the game.
Second baseman Chris Conover earned a pass to first by not chasing bad pitches and walked with one out. M.O.T. remembered the damage shortstop Luis Barrientos (2-3, RBI double and solo home run) inflicted in their first meeting in the state tournament, and intentionally walked him twice in the championship game, leaving Showalter with two men on base with one out.
It must have been fate, because just two pitches before launching his game-winning three-run home run, he had fouled a pitch out into foul territory and it was dropped. But Head Coach Craig Conover had faith in his cleanup batter to do just that — clean up.
“I needed a run and he said he could hit a long fly, so I was willing to let him try,” said Conover.
M.O.T. would answer the bell and rally to score two runs on starting pitcher Luis Barrientos. Barrientos would issue a leadoff walk and then a 2-0 double to give M.O.T. runners in scoring position with no outs.
Barrientos had been struggling finding the strike zone early, but he zeroed in after working the count full to strike out the next M.O.T. batter looking. The next batter belted a two-run single to cut the lead to 3-2, but Barrientos would retire the final two batters to leave an all-important base runner stranded.
It took seven pitches to work the count full but the eighth delivered the ball to right field for the second out and the last out was one-two-three, as in strikes.
Barrientos struck out two of his six batters in the top of the fourth inning.
The Delaware State Championship game against M.O.T was much more difficult than in their opening game to start the tournament, which may be attributed to the different styles of pitching between Barrientos and Cameron Travalini.
“M.O.T. is a good hitting team, and were waiting for a fastball pitcher like Luis to come along,” said Conover.
Travalini came in to work the final two innings in relief of Barrientos, and worked a 1-2-3 sixth inning and only allowed one hit in the seventh for the save.
“Luis only threw 62 pitches, but he said he was done,” said Conover. “He did his job.”
Travalini earned the complete-game win in their first meeting with M.O.T. in the state tournament while giving up three runs on six base runners (five hits and one walk) and striking out two — the second strikeout was to end the game.
Travalini’s stuff wasn’t overpowering, but he changed speeds effectively and was able to rely on an outstanding defense.
Barrientos accounted just over half of his team’s outs in the first game against M.O.T. from the shortstop position. He snared 11 ground balls and made almost every play look routine.
In the top of the second inning of the first M.O.T. match-up, Barrientos made a spectacular play after attempting to cover second base on a steal attempt.
The M.O.T. coach put a hit-and-run on and the ball was hit to the hole between third base and the shortstop, but Barrientos was able to stop it.
He changed direction and made a great backhanded stab to stop not only extra bases, but also to rifle the ball to first base for the second out.
Lower Sussex had to scrap their way back from a 2-0 first inning deficit, but did so slowly but surely.
Travalini scored their first run on a Barrientos RBI double in the bottom of the first inning to cut the lead to 2-1. Lower Sussex would score again, but in the bottom of the third inning on an RBI-single by catcher Bo Wilkerson.
Wilkerson plowed a M.O.T. fastball to the left centerfield fence that would give Lower Sussex runners on the corners.
“The coach told me to come off the ball with a wide stance and to load,” said Wilkerson following his previous at-bat where he struck out.
Showalter scored on a past pitch to first baseman Cody Cooke.
Center fielder Elijah Foreman and Barrientos would both add solo home runs to further their cause towards their state championship dreams.
Foreman finally caught up with the pitch that he so desprately wanted to get a hold of in the bottom of the fourth inning when he blasted a solo home run, after cranking up and popping out on some high heat in the bottom of the second.
“I was trying too hard earlier, so I tried to sit back and wait for my pitch,” said Foreman.
Barrientos and Showalter grabbed most of the warm sidewalk with their dramatic home runs, but it is the table setters that allowed them that very opportunity — to knock in runs.
Second baseman Chris Conover laid down two sarifice bunts in the first game against M.O.T. and another in the championship game to give Lower Sussex’s big boppers a chance to bang in runs.
“That’s why [Coach Conover] has me batting second — to move Cameron [Travalini] to second base and let Luis and Cory knock them in,” said Chris Conover.
Lower Sussex coasted towards a 6-3 victory in their first game in the state tournament but the road didn’t stop there — they still had to go through Newark.
Lower Sussex would just barely eke by Newark by a paltry score of 2-1. Showalter earned the win and pitched his way through 6 1/3 innings before he made way for Barrientos to seal the win.
The first batter he faced blooped a single down the left field line to load the bases before Newark would score their first run on an RBI single.
No worries though because Barrientos left the next two batters swinging like rusty gates for strikeouts to earn the save.
Lower Sussex scored their two runs all in the bottom of the fourth inning on a Barrientos solo homerun and a RBI single by right fielder Matt McDowell that scored first baseman Trent Bennett.
Lower Sussex’s win over M.O.T. earns them their second straight state title and now Conover’s squad will head to New Jersey to face West Salisbury in the Eastern Regional at 5 p.m. on Aug. 6.