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Mavericks Fight Valiantly For State Championship

 

CFDdAaoVIAI7j_-.jpg largeBY SCOTT RATCLIFFE | Daily Progress correspondent, Photo credit: Tom Pallante

COLONIAL HEIGHTS —  A valiant comeback attempt fell just short for the top-seeded Miller School baseball team, as second-seeded Greenbrier Christian Academy held on to win the VISAA Division II state championship, 6-3, at Shepherd Stadium on Saturday.

After falling behind early on, the Mavericks had the bases loaded with the winning run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Gators reliever Tyrin Everette got the game-sealing strikeout to end Miller’s memorable season with a record of 23-5.

It was the second consecutive runner-up finish for Miller, which claimed the Division III title in 2006. The Mavericks knocked the Gators out on the same field in last season’s semifinal round, but on Saturday, Greenbrier got two runs on the board before the Mavericks stepped to the plate and maintained the advantage all the way to the game’s crucial final pitch.

“Our whole goal for teaching these kids is not the winning and the losing — it’s the process of never giving up and fighting through all adversity,” said Miller coach and former Major Leaguer Billy Wagner. “It was good to see our kids battle in that last inning and not give up, and it is hard to lose five seniors but they’re going to go on to great and wonderful things and you’ve just got to hug them and love them and tell them that we’ll go get them next time.”

Greenbrier (26-4) came into the contest on a 14-game winning streak and had two on and one out in the top of the first when Everette’s fly ball to center field brought in the game’s first run. With a runner at third, Gators sophomore Erik Stock smacked the very next Mike Dailey delivery straight up the middle to double the lead and put the Mavericks in an early hole.

After falling behind in the count early during the next at-bat, Wagner stepped to the mound to give Dailey a little encouragement.

“I just tried to tell him, ‘Hey, you know what, you’re one pitch away,’” said Wagner, “simplify his thinking and not to over-think the situation because the game gets really fast, and just get him to calm down and make that one pitch and he’s done it all year long and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

Dailey got Colten Wynn to ground out and escape without any further damage, but the Gators got a leadoff single from Garrett Jones to start the third. Miller freshman shortstop Ethan Murray made a nice play to limit extra bases for the speedy Jones. Sam Watson bunted Jones into scoring position before Harry Brown brought him around on an RBI double to the gap in left-center to make it 3-0. Miller went on to retire seven of the next eight Greenbrier batters and finally got a baserunner aboard in the bottom of the third, but could not cut into the lead until the following frame.

Murray led off the bottom of the fourth with a double down the left field line and moved over to third two batters later as senior Jack Morris reached on an error. With runners at the corners, Dailey brought both of them in with a two-run double to trim the Miller deficit to 3-2.

“His bat all year long has sparked us; he’s been a great hitter for us this year,” said Wagner of his clean-up hitter. “He’s kept a lot of innings alive and helped us do a lot of great things, so it wasn’t unusual to see him do that.”

Senior first baseman Brook Henley reached on an infield single to put runners at first and third with two down, but Johnny Wood flied out to center to end the inning.

Morris came on in relief in the fourth and ran into a jam in the fifth with two runners in scoring position and two outs, but struck out Stock to keep it a one-run ballgame.

Senior Jacob Rich took over on the mound to start the sixth and had two outs and worked a full count against Greenbrier’s No. 9 hitter, Cody Hart, with Wynn on third. Rich’s 3-2 delivery bounced off the plate and to the backstop, allowing the Gators to extend their lead to 4-2 as Wynn hustled to the plate.

“Mike and Jack and Jacob Rich did great today — they battled in the strike zone, they competed and we came up on the short side, but they competed well…,” Wagner said of the collective effort of his three star senior pitchers, all of whom will be playing NCAA Division I ball this time next year (Dailey will attend VCU, Morris committed to Virginia Tech and Rich is a future Radford Highlander). “It’s tough to lose them, but their leadership that they have left behind is tremendous. Their work ethic shows with all the kids in our program.”

In the bottom half of the inning, Morris was called out on a full-count pitch that he thought was ball four, as did the Miller fans in attendance. The next batter, Dailey, sent a two-out single to right, bringing junior third baseman Connor Gillispie to the plate representing the tying run. Gillispie, who pitched a complete-game shutout in the semifinal win over Atlantic Shores Friday, grounded out to end the inning.

Watson singled up the middle to start the top of the seventh for the Gators and then Everette was hit by a pitch two batters later to set up the final blow, as Stock rocketed one to the left side of the infield. Murray dove to make the play but the ball just got past him and rolled all the way to the wall in left-center, allowing both runners to score. Stock was thrown out trying for third before Wynn flew out to end the inning, and the Mavericks were down to their final three outs.

Wood got on as his one-out infield single took a hop over the shortstop’s head before Rich drew a full-count walk. As Everette came on in relief for the Gators, Jacob Gavin moved them into scoring position on a fielder’s choice chopper, but Miller was down to its last out.

Murray stepped in with an RBI single to make it 6-3 with runners still at first and third, and then sophomore infielder Will Wagner drew a four-pitch walk from Everette to load the bases for Morris. The momentum swung back and forth with each pitch of the all-important at-bat, as Morris took a ball before Everette answered with a strike; Morris took a ball, Everette threw a strike.

With the count at 2-2, Everette’s next pitch caught the corner to end the game, and with it, Miller’s season, giving Greenbrier its 12th overall VISAA state championship and first since 2009.

Murray finished the game 2 for 4 with a run scored, while Dailey was 2 for 3. Wagner hopes to get his troops over the hump this time next spring.

“Hopefully we’ll continue to feed off [the seniors’] tradition and what they’ve started,” Wagner said, “and get back here and maybe break the barrier and win one.”   ~via The Daily Progress, Charlottesville, Virginia

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