So far, when it matters most, the Hanover Hawks deliver.
Behind the spectacular pitching of junior Derek Casey, the Hawks knocked off Eastern Region champion Kellam 5-0 Tuesday night at the Bud Metheny Baseball Complex at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.
Hanover (21-4), having to hit the road after falling in the last Central Region championship by a 5-1 count to
Douglas Freeman on Friday, limited the Knights to just four hits while Kellam committed as many errors. In fact, four was a magic number for Hanover as the Hawks scored four runs in the second inning to take a lead they’d never relinquish.
“Derek has been great all year, but tonight he was challenged by a really good team and he stepped his whole game up,” Hanover head coach Charlie Dragum said. “I think that’s what he needed; he needed to be challenged and feel that adrenaline again.”
Casey relished his role, and was thankful for the early lead, as the Hawks plated four with two outs in the second on RBI singles from Johnny Gregory and Andrew Knizner sandwiching a two-run double by Josh Shepherd. One of the four Kellam errors figured into the inning as well.
“That was a huge momentum change, scoring those four runs,” Casey noted. “Then we came out and got them 1-2-3.”
The Knights would get a runner in scoring position just twice, but Casey fanned Knights first baseman Turner Bishop to leave a runner stranded at third in the third, then, in the sixth, after a leadoff single by Kellam starter Sam Sinnen, Casey struck out the side.
Casey, who finished the game with 12 strikeouts, entered the quarterfinal with an ERA of 0.67. It’s even better now. And, with the new VHSL pitching rules, Dragum does have Casey as a strategic option this weekend when Hanover looks to win its first-ever state championship.
“He can go two innings for us Friday, or he could pitch up to three on Saturday,” Dragum explained.
Hanover will face Oakton, the Northwest Region runner-up who knocked off Northern Region champ C.D. Hylton Tuesday 4-3, in the second state semifinal at Westfield High School in Chantilly at 7 p.m., weather permitting. The Hanover/Oakton winner will face either Great Bridge or Lake Braddock in Saturday’s 3 p.m. state title game.
The Hawks advanced to the state championship game in 2009 before losing to Menchville. They are two wins away from bettering that.
This postseason, when the Hawks have punched their ticket to the next level of competition, they’ve fallen short in their next outings, losing the Capital District tournament final to Atlee and Friday’s region final to Freeman. But Dragum sees an edge with his team when facing elimination.
“We have not fared well in the games that were just for trophies,” Dragum said. “Tonight, our guys were ready. When that first pitch was thrown, those kids were fired up.”
And it didn’t take many Casey pitches to extinguish the Kellam flame for good.