Lowe belted a line drive into left field, scoring Patrick Wiseman from first and giving Pope a 7-6 win in eight innings Tuesday. It clinched the Class AAAAA state semifinal series and gave the Greyhounds the chance to host the state championship series against Greenbrier this weekend.
Lowe also threw five innings of three-run baseball, striking out three batters. Braden Zarbinsky was credited with the win after pitching in the decisive eighth inning.
“That was awesome,” Lowe said. “I absolutely loved it. I didn’t know if I hit the ball up high enough, but I was praying it was.”
Pope (26-11) jumped out to a 4-1 lead after the third inning, and it looked poised to seal the game with that many runs. But in the top of the seventh, trailing 5-3, Starr’s Mill (29-6) started the inning with a leadoff single from Brett Jeffares, which was followed up by Artemis Kadkhodaian taking a pitch off of his elbow.
Two batters later, Garrison Elliott singled to center, driving in both Jeffares and Kadkhodaian and tying the game at 5.
With the game going to extra innings, play was suspended with one out in the top of the eighth due to lightning in the area. When play resumed, all momentum appeared to be going the way of Starrs’ Mill when Zarbinsky was called for a balk with the bases loaded, bringing in Adam Weisheit in for a 6-5 Panthers lead.
Zarbinsky collected himself and managed to get the final out of the inning, giving Pope its chance at a berth in the state championship series.
“We talked during the rain delay about how we didn’t need to give them more than one run,” Pope coach Jeff Rowland said. “We’ve been scoring a lot of runs this year, so I knew that if we only gave them one, we’d have a chance.”
If Pope is a team of destiny, it showed in the bottom of the eighth.
Jared Parker led off with what appeared to be a routine grounder to short, but Elliott mishandled the throw at first, and Parker was on board safely. He then advanced to second on a wild pitch, and then third on a fielder’s choice.
Wiseman followed with a single to right field to tie the game, and it was up to Lowe to finish the job. Lowe’s game-winning hit reached the wall in left field, and it was enough to give Wiseman time to slide home safely and set off a raucous celebration by the Greyhounds’ fans.
“These guys scratched and clawed all year long,” Rowland said. “(Tuesday) was no different. We knew coming in that it was going to be a dogfight, and we knew they were going to bring back their No. 1 pitcher because of the way they were beating us so bad in Game 1 (Monday).”
Starr’s Mill won the first game of the series 14-0, and starting pitcher Ryan Avidano was pulled after fewer than 20 pitches, preserving him for the potential Game 3, which Pope made a reality with its 9-7 win in Game 2.
“We’ve had a lot of walk-off wins this year” Rowland said. “They keep amazing me.”
Pope will host five-time state champion Greenbrier in a doubleheader Saturday for a shot at its second state title, four years after the first. If the teams split Saturday, a third game will be played Monday.
Looking ahead, Lowe was clear with his emotions.
“I’m so excited. So excited.”