By ROB WITHAM
H-P Sports Correspondent
When deciding to play three games over Spring Break, high school baseball teams normally get the realistic view of where they are, what they need to work on, and where they need to improve. Now, back into regular season action, Hanover, Lee-Davis and Atlee all are using momentum from last week to hopefully propel them as the postseason quickly approaches.
For the Hawks, a split of two games in Hampton Roads, defeating Kellam, then falling to Hickory, a team that is one of the favorites to win the 5A State Championship in June, placed them 1-1 for the week heading home for their 4A State Championshp rematch last Thursday night with Liberty Christian Academy. Memories of the wild 13-12 win were fresh on everyone’s mind, especially the Bulldogs, who scored three runs in unorthodox fashion in the third inning for a 3-0 lead.
But Hanover (8-2) answered their first challenge in their half of the inning, tying the game. Jack Chenault singled off the pitcher’s glove, moving to second when Cam Grimes was hit by a pitch. Nolan Caler’s bunt down the third base line handcuffed Hunter Johnson of the Bulldogs, who couldn’t get a throw off in time, and the bases were loaded.
Michael Warley then singled to right to bring home Chenault. A fielder’s choice forced Grimes out at home. When Josh Plummer grounded to short, it looked like a double play developing, but a bad throw to first resulted in both Caler and courtesy runner Brian Sisson racing to the plate to knot the game at 3-3.
Liberty Christian scored in the sixth on a passed ball and was a strike from victory in the seventh when, with two outs, Warley saved the day with an RBI single to score Chenault again to force extra innings. In the home half of the eighth, Will Lopez advanced to third, and, on a 2-2 pitch, Nick Zona blooped the ball just over the head of the second baseman. Lopez touched home, touching off a celebration as Hanover prevailed 5-4.
“I had a rough night at the plate, everything was located away from me, off-speed. My team, we battled around, but we still have energy,” Zona noted. “I just knew I had to get the job done, somehow, some way, to get that run in.”
Grimes picked up the victory in relief of starter Antonio Balducci. Hanover next hosts red-hot Lee-Davis, who swept their way through the Deep Run Spring Break Classic with wins over Monacan, Midlothian, then St. Christopher’s in the championship game last Wednesday 5-2.
Braden Lambert and Jake Stanley were the heroes for the Confederates (7-2) in the title win over the Saints, as Lambert homered early in the contest, then, in the top of the fifth, Lambert found himself to the plate with the bases loaded in a 2-2 tie.
“It was a fastball. He had me 2-0, and coach said don’t swing unless I get a fastball,” Lambert said, recalling the at-bat. “I watched the next fastball, and I knew there would be another one, and I just turned on it and hit it solid.”
Solid enough that it landed deep in the gap in left center, and all three Lee-Davis baserunners came in to score for the 5-2 lead. Their fate next rested in the hands of Jake Stanley, and Stanley delivered, striking out four of the last six Saints batters he faced to throw the team’s second straight complete game, winning the Classic 5-2. In 21 innings over three days, head coach Tyler Johnson made exactly one call to the bullpen, as Matthew Holler also pitched a complete game in the semifinal win over Midlothian, also by a 5-2 score.
“If you said we’d use four pitchers over three games with our pitching regulations, I would have called you crazy,” Johnson opined. “We wanted to relieve Holler in the seventh in the semis and he said, no, give me the ball, and he got the job done. Jake was battling a bit of a back issue today, but when I texted him this morning, he said I’m ready.”
Johnson noted correctly that efficiency was huge for Stanley, as he retired Saints quickly in the early innings, helping to deflate his pitch count total. In the last three innings, Stanley only needed twenty pitches.
Now armed with confidence, the rotation of Stanley, Holler, and Bryan Diehr can keep Lee-Davis in any game. The depth of Hanover’s pitching has been a hallmark of their program. The mound will be center stage Friday night when Lee-Davis visits Hawk Nation at 7pm.
That same night, Atlee (8-3) will head to Patrick Henry, armed with two impressive Spring Break wins on the road, at Massaponax, then at Gloucester, the latter a 1-0, ten-inning marathon which saw Kamari Davis finally break the scoring drought driving in the game’s lone run in the top of the tenth.
Quietly, but confidently, the Raiders are looking to make noise in Conference 16, and it will be up to the Patriots, the only county team not to play over Spring Break, to stop them.