Less than a week following his stellar pitching performance to secure the fourth playoff appearance for the Marshall baseball program, the left-hander threw his way to its first victory in the MSHSAA Class 3 Sectionals during Tuesday's 8-2 victory at Cuba.
"It's good to finally validate some of the hard work we put in," MHS head coach Ian Verts said after the Owls advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time. "This is where we want to be and we want to continue to move forward."
Skinner tossed a two-hitter, allowing only one earned run and striking out nine, while also driving in the game-winning run. With excellent pitch location, he didn't walk a batter until the fifth inning after taking the hill with a lead following Marshall's two-run first inning.
"Hats off. The last two outings he's had have been outstanding," Verts declared. "He kept them off-balance, using his curve ball and moving the ball up and down, never letting them settle in on him and trusting his defense."
Right-hander Taylor Thompson had a rough start for the Wildcats, walking five batters and yielding a run on a wild pitch in the top of the first inning.
"He's an outstanding pitcher, but he's only a sophomore and was a little bit nervous coming out," Verts noted. "I told our kids early that it's a big game and he's got to come to you. He's forced to throw strikes, and in that situation we took advantage of what he gave us."
Skinner pitched around a defensive miscue and one-out single by sophomore Ryan Bouse in the bottom of the first, and didn't allow another hit over the next four frames.
After senior Sebastian Sims was hit by a pitch to begin the second, Skinner doubled him home and junior Zach Bishop followed with a homer over the short right-field wall to make it 5-0.
"Any time you give your pitcher runs, that's what you want," Verts said. "That big hit ... was a spark plug for us. We needed that to give 'Skinny' that confidence to ... throw strikes and know we're just going to be fine."
An error, two grounders and wild pitch gave Cuba (16-10) a run in the third, but after missing scoring opportunities in the previous two innings the Owls strung together five hits for three runs in the sixth.
Skinner got it going with a ground-rule double to chase Thompson and Bishop pulled a ball down the right-field line to plate the first run. Senior Jordan Pannell and junior Henry Tietz singled, but a good relay by Thompson at second base cut down a runner at the plate.
Two errors and senior Collin Brennan's two-out single plated two more runs.
Thompson drew a lead-off walk in the bottom of the sixth and came in on sophomore Cameron Williams' single, but Skinner induced a fly ball to snuff the threat and retired the side in order in the seventh for his team-high sixth victory of the season.
Marshall will have another long road trip Thursday for the quarterfinal round -- one win away from the MSHSAA Championships -- at Logan-Rogersville, which came from behind to beat Mount Vernon in eight innings, 8-5. The Wildcats (22-4) have been in the playoffs three of the last five years, going to state in 2010.
However, as the Owls (16-10) have proven throughout the season, they won't be intimidated while scaling new heights.
"The proved they belong, not just today but throughout the NCMC" campaign, Verts remarked. "We've beaten teams we haven't beaten before and won a district title against a team we've struggled against in the past.
"Once you get past some of those mental blocks, the sky's the limit."
[Ed. Note: Story changed to reflect number of Marshall playoff appearances.]