By Nick Hampton
FORT GIBSON — The old baseball adage says good pitching will beat good hitting every time. You won’t get any arguments from the Wagoner Bulldogs about that.
In a classic pitcher’s duel, Wagoner’s Preston Whitten outlasted Sperry’s Madison Watkins in extra innings as the Bulldogs captured a 3-0 win over the Pirates to advance to tonight’s championship game of the Fort Gibson Invitational Tournament at Carr-O’Dell Tiger Field.
Whitten went all eight innings for the Bulldogs (17-7), scattering seven hits and striking out 16 Pirates. In one of those games you hate to see either pitcher lose, Watkins went all the way for Sperry and had a no-hitter through the first seven innings.
“We knew going in it was going to be a great game. They were highly ranked (No.2 in Class 3A),” said an elated Bulldogs coach Larry Milligan. “They threw their number one and he’s exactly all they billed him to be. I told our kids in the fourth inning that one run was going to win the game and we just needed to find a way to scratch out that one run.”
It was all pitching and defense through the first seven innings. Wagoner had only three base runners on two hit batters and a walk. Sperry never put two hits together and didn’t get a runner past second base.
The Pirates (23-6) looked like they might take it in the last of the seventh. Clay Beagles singled to start the inning. Jacob Ficklin’s sacrifice bunt was too hard and Beagles was thrown out at second. But shortstop Grant Brown’s throw to first for the double play was wild and Ficklin ended up at second with one out. But Whitten got out of the jam by striking out the next two Pirate batters.
Wagoner scored in the top of eighth as Cody Milligan led off with a walk and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brett Butler. Following a strikeout, Whitten drew a walk and Brown hit a grounder to deep short that Pirate Calup Stout tried to throw to first. The ball caromed away from the first baseman allowing both Milligan and Whitten to score. Trey Milligan then followed with an RBI single for the third Bulldog run.
Sperry fought back in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, a walk to Stout and a double off the left center field wall by Trey Dickey put Pirates at second and third. But once again Whitten rose to the occasion with two more strikeouts to end the game.
“This was definitely my best outing of the year,” said a beaming Whitten. “My fastball had a lot of velocity and movement on it today and my curve finally starting getting in around the fourth inning.”
Earlier in the day the Bulldogs defeated Sequoyah Claremore 13-5. scoring seven runs in the first inning and six more in the fifth. Sperry beat Stilwell 4-3 and Sequoyah then beat Stilwell 5-1.
The Bulldogs and Fort Gibson Tigers will meet for the third time this season for the tournament championship. Fort Gibson emerged on the other side of the bracket in Thursday’s play. The two teams have split the previous pair of games.
Hilldale plays a consolation final at 3 p.m. against Claremore Sequoyah.