West Springfield senior right fielder Nick Stevens said he and his teammates wanted to prove Tuesday night in their Virginia AAA baseball quarterfinal against James River-Midlothian that they would not be intimidated by Rapids pitcher Nathan Kirby and that the Spartans were the better team.
But after James River finished off a 6-1 win over West Springfield (18-10), Stevens diagnosed that one goal had proven detrimental to the other. It was the Spartans’ aggressiveness at the plate that did them in. Fourteen of the 15 West Springfield batters that struck out Tuesday against Kirby did so swinging.
Kirby, a left-handed senior who claimed the state’s Gatorade player of the year honors this season and who has signed with the University of Virginia, gave up three hits and no walks. He hit one batter.
“We were definitely chasing his pitches,” said Stevens, who recorded two of the Spartans’ hits. “He had great stuff. Honestly, we tried to fight a little too much at the plate and were just chasing that curveball that he was commanding really well.”
West Springfield Coach Jason Olms said his team had its opportunities. With Stevens on third and two outs in the bottom of the first, senior left fielder Daniel Allen hit a hard groundball to the left side of the infield. But James River third baseman Mac Caples made a diving stop and threw to first in time to end the inning.
“If we’d have scored that first run, who knows what happens?” Olms said. Kirby “didn’t have his best stuff early on, but then he got stronger as the game went along. That’s what great pitchers do.”
West Springfield senior pitcher Connor Tagg’s night was more taxing. After striking out Caples with a curveball in the first inning, Tagg threw Caples another two-strike breaking ball in the third. That time, though, the pitch hung a little high, and Caples deposited it over the fence in left center for a two-run home run. Tagg allowed four hits and four walks in five and one-third innings.
The Spartans got on the board in the sixth after the first two batters reached base. Junior shortstop Taylor Boyd stole third and then advanced home after a wild throw by the James River catcher before Kirby struck out three straight batters to end the threat.
Kirby “just kept getting out of innings,” Stevens said. “He knew how to handle his pitches.”