UPDATE: Hanover Hawks Baseball will return to defend their state title after nipping Nansemond River 3-2 in 8 innings in the 4A South Region Semifinals Wednesday night in Suffolk.
Trevor Denton picked up the victory in relief as Hanover scored the winning run on a bases-loaded walk. The Hawks host the 4A South Region Championship game this Friday, then play in the 4A State Semifinals next Friday, June 13.
A sign of a successful baseball program is the ability to find ways to consistently win that match the talent on your roster.
In 2013, pitching and defense helped the Hanover Hawks capture the Group AAA State Baseball Championship. But they also had the promise of the “big inning” at the plate, where a walk and single could produce the quick three-run homer.
In 2014, the power may be down, but the Hawks find other ways to win. Friday night, Hanover pushed across two runs as pitching by committee and timely, sometimes tricky, defense, gave the Hawks a 2-1 win over Midlothian for the inaugural Conference 20 Championship.
“We have two home runs all year,” said Hanover head coach Charlie Dragum. “We don’t have the big boppers, so pitching and defense are important and every run is crucial.”
After holding an early 1-0 lead, Midlothian scored one to tie the game in the fourth inning. In the home half, Trevor Denton got on base, advanced to second, then raced home on a two-out single by Jakob Pridemore to return the lead to Hanover. The rest of the night belonged to the Hawks in the field.
Starter Grey Lyttle pitched three innings, then gave way to John Gregory, who allowed the run in the fourth and got into trouble in the fifth. That’s when Dragum called on Denton to hit the mound with Trojans at first and second with one out in the fifth. Denton shut down Midlothian, stranding the two runners on base.
Closer Hayden Moore came in for the seventh, and, save a two-out double to the left field corner, took care of business.
“I’m used to going into these situations,” Moore explained. “I know I can shut batters down, I’m confident in all my pitches.”
Moore noted his fastball and cutter were both working well for him, necessary with the lead at just a run.
“It got me kind of nervous, but he was just at second and we had two out. I told myself to get one more out, and I’d be fine,” Moore added.
A key play occurred in the sixth, when Michael Blackburn of Midlothian attempted to advance to third. Denton went into the bag of tricks for a hidden ball play. When he tagged Blackburn out, Blackburn was clueless that Denton held the ball in his glove. It was the second out of the inning, and proved to be a rally killer.
“We put it in our arsenal a couple of weeks ago,” Denton explained, terming it the “Charlie Brown Play.” “My brother’s team did it against Atlee in 2007, so we’ve been practicing it for a time like this.”
Midlothian proved to be one of Hanover’s toughest opponents this season, as the Trojans fell to the Hawks by the same 2-1 margin on opening night March 21. The script was similar: find runs where you can against good pitching, then call on better pitching to shut them down.
Pitching by committee was the plan coming into the title tilt, making sure, due to Virginia High School League (VHSL) pitching regulations that as many hurlers would still be eligible to pitch in the 4A South Region tournament as possible, including ace, University of Virginia commit Derek Casey. The advantage of pitching depth at this stage of the season cannot be understated.
“It’s unbelievable,” Dragum stated. “Our pitching coach has done an incredible job over the years building this up. It’s coming to fruition last year and this year. We’re so deep in pitching because the guys work so hard. We have seven, eight guys we can run up to the mound and really feel confident that they can get the job done.”
The Conference 20 Championship win gave Hanover home-field advantage in the 4A South Region Quarterfinals Monday night, where they knocked off Conference 19 runner-up Jamestown 8-2. Denton had a big night at the plate, driving in four runs. Lyttle took the win, hurling four innings, followed by an inning each for Denton, Casey and Moore, keeping top arms sharp for the deeper rounds.
The Hawks, at 18-2, next traveled to Suffolk Wednesday night after press time for a matchup with Nansemond River in the Region Semifinals. The winner not only moved to the Region Finals on Friday, but also punched a ticket to the 4A State Tournament June 13.