BRISTOL, Va. — For the most part, Gate City pitcher Cory Franklin’s senior season hasn’t been terribly impressive.
What he did at Boyce Cox Field on Thursday night was very much so.
The senior left-hander struck out 12 and went the distance in the Blue Devils’ 6-5 win over Wise Central in the Region D, Division 2 baseball tournament semifinals.
Despite entering the regionals seeded eighth, Gate City (7-18) will face Honaker (20-3) in today’s regional championship game, which will be played following the D-1 finals set for first pitch at 2 p.m.
Both the Blue Devils and the Tigers, who beat Union 11-5 in the Thursday’s opener, are guaranteed berths in Tuesday’s VHSL Group A, D-2 quarterfinals.
Gate City may not have a fairy godmother, but an auspicious fortune cookie plays a part in this rags-to-riches tale.
“We knew all we had to do to get in the state was win three games,” said an elated Franklin. “Back before we played Grundy (in the first regional game) we were eating at Tamiko’s and I got a fortune cookie that said my lucky number was 3.”
His lucky number Thursday night was 169. That was Franklin’s pitch count after he struck out Nate Thompson for the third out in the bottom of the seventh inning, leaving the tying run stranded at second base.
“That’s a good number, isn’t it? The 169th one was the best one,” said Gate City coach Robbie Perry. “It was a gut feeling. I had to go with him. He wanted it. We had a heart-to-heart coming off the mound (at 150 pitches). He said he could go.
“He got us there. He finally stepped up and was the senior leader that we needed him to be. Bless his heart, he’s had a tough two years.”
Central (13-9) scratched out only four hits but wasn’t lacking in opportunities. Franklin walked 10 batters and hit four with pitches. The Warriors left 14 stranded.
Caleb Mills’ RBI double in the seventh made things interesting, but it was too little, too late.
“We left way too many runners on base. That pitcher threw 170-some pitches. That’s just a gutsy effort. I admire that kid,” said Central coach Brian Mills. “Timely hitting is a big thing in baseball and we didn’t get it and they did.”
Thompson had two of Central’s four hits. Gate City, which plated five unearned runs in the third inning off two hits, three walks and an error, got a two-RBI triple from Corey Salyers. Hunter Wolfe added a double, stealing two bases on the day.
In Thursday’s opener, Honaker pitcher Austin Kiser was the man of the hour. Kiser (4-2) rode out Union’s eight-hit barrage to the victorious end. He made it easier on himself by stroking a grand slam in the third inning for what held up as the winning margin.
“We’ll enjoy this on the way home. But you notice that we didn’t do any celebrating. We haven’t won anything yet,” said Honaker coach Alex Zachwieja.
Bears starter Derrick Watkins (5-4) got immediately shelled for five runs off three hits and two errors. Hunter Neece took over and got Union out of the inning, but the tone was set.
“Offensively, I thought we came out with a spark in our eye. Defensively ...” Bears coach J.W. Salyers said, trailing off. “Baseball is the ultimate momentum game. If things are going slowly with your pitcher-catcher relationship, it’s going to trickle out to your defense.”
Ben Baugh led Union with three hits, including a double.