It was a “strong” way to end what could have been a season-ending slide.
Patrick Henry baseball, desperate for a win to continue its season, rode the arm and the bat of William Strong to a 5-1 triumph over Albemarle in the Conference 16 Tournament Semifinal Friday night in Ashland, clinching a berth in the 5A North Regional Tourney.The Patriots had lost back-to-back games earlier in the week to end the regular season, 6-5 at Hermitage in eight innings, and 7-0 at Mills Godwin. Momentum was not in on the Patriots’ side as they welcomed the other Patriots of Conference 16 with everything on the line. Strong, who had thrown victories for Patrick Henry each of the preceding two Fridays, was ready for the challenge.
“Coach (Sam Hart) told me to take my fastball and shut them down,” Strong said, who, while striking out five, is normally more akin to using his change-up as the “go to” pitch. “If I see that the batters are back behind the ball and I can run my fastball out real quick, they won’t touch it.”
Albemarle didn’t touch Strong on the scoreboard until the last chance in the seventh, though they had their chances, including leaving the bases loaded in the sixth inning with the deficit at only three.
A.J. Hart started the scoring for the Patriots (12-8) with a two-run single in the first, followed up by Strong’s solo shot to lead off the bottom of the third for the 3-0 edge. Colby Mills had two doubles for Patrick Henry as well, who did a better job than earlier in the week of finishing the job offensively, driving in runners, but not as well as Coach Hart would have liked.
“Willie has thrown really well for us, but I don’t think we played as well as we could have offensively,” Hart explained. “We didn’t bunt as well as we needed to, but I guess that happens. Baseball’s a funny game.”
Don’t take Hart’s comments wrong: he was happy to clinch the regional berth, but spoke as a coach who knew there was more potential, more positive results waiting to come from his team, if they would better execute. He also spoke knowing there were bigger games ahead.
One would be Monday, when the Patriots traveled to near South Boston for the Conference 16 Championship. Leading early, then falling behind, Patrick Henry clawed back, then fell 5-4 to Halifax County in eight innings.
Mills had another key double, this time in the top of the seventh to score two runs and give Patrick Henry at 4-3 lead. But they couldn’t close it out, allowing the tying run to score on a pinch-hit single by Thomas Cole. In the eighth, a would-be third out fly ball to right field was dropped by Riley Enright, allowing the winning run to score from second for the Comets’ victory.
The loss cost the Patriots a first-round bye in the 5A North Regionals. They will host a first round game on Friday night against the third place finisher from Conference 15, either Brooke Point or Mountain View. A victory sends them to Conference 13 champion George Marshall for a regional quarterfinal on Monday.
If it’s Friday, expect Strong on the hill at home, looking for his fourth straight Friday victory, a move that would send Patrick Henry into June baseball for the first time in years.