Bases-loaded hit by pitch puts Hylton in Virginia AAA Northwest Region baseball final

No doubt the Hylton baseball players have exchanged some tight celebratory embraces on their postseason runs the past two years.

During that stretch, however, there perhaps has been no tighter hug than the one junior Austin Magestro gave home plate when he was batting in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday night at home against Battlefield in the Virginia AAA Northwest Region semifinals.

Per Hylton Coach Craig Flesher’s directive, Magestro crowded the plate with the bases loaded and no outs in the 1-1 game. Sure enough, the cleanup hitter got plunked on a 1-2 pitch, forcing in the decisive run in a 2-1 walk-off/hit-by-pitch victory that sewed up a second consecutive state tournament berth for the Bulldogs.

Hylton entered the bottom of the seventh down 1-0, with eight stranded base runners, but got the first two batters on via throwing errors to help set up Magestro’s opportunistic taking one for the team.

The Bulldogs (17-7) will host second-year program Patriot, a 3-2 semifinal winner over Colonial Forge Wednesday, in the region final at 6 p.m. Friday. The Northwest Region is paired with the Northern Region in the state quarterfinals, so the Patriot-Hylton winner will host the Northern runner-up Tuesday and the loser will play at the Northern champion. Patriot has beaten Hylton each of the past two regular seasons.

Battlefield junior left-hander Nick Wells had a shutout working against Hylton until the seventh, when juniors Trey Bridis and Brady Zinda each reached on throwing errors to start the inning. Senior Justin Sneed then doubled a full-count pitch to the center field fence to drive in the tying run, and the Bobcats intentionally walked senior Andre Scrubb, the No. 3 hitter, to load the bases and push Zinda to third.

In stepped Magestro with no outs and the bases loaded.

“When he had two strikes on me, I just got real close to the plate, and I was either going to put the ball in play or get hit by the pitch,” Magestro said. “A win’s a win. I’ll take it any way we can get it.”

“It counts the same, right?” Flesher said with a laugh. “I can’t believe how that thing unfolded. We wanted to make the Wells kid work, because we really have a lot of respect for him as a pitcher. So we figured if we got up on [the plate], it would take some of his zone away because he wouldn’t want to hit him. It ended up working out for us.”

Battlefield (19-3) managed only four hits off Scrubb, along with four walks, and stranded 11 runners, including three in the top of the seventh (two were intentionally walked batters). The Bobcats scored in the fifth, when junior Steven Kraft singled with one out and took third on a throwing error. Junior Nick Feight doubled in Kraft, but Scrubb got out of the inning by striking out the next two batters.

“It happened so fast,” Battlefield Coach Jay Burkhart said of the fluky bottom of the seventh. “Next thing you know, we’re down 2-1 and we’re shaking hands. How fast it unravels, you know? The baseball gods looked down and said, ‘No. Not tonight.’ ”

When the Hylton players and coaches huddled before the bottom of the seventh inning, Flesher kept the patter light.

“Look at all these people,” he said to the Bulldogs in reference to the robust crowd. “Imagine how loud it’s going to be once you score that second run.”

After the game, senior Alec Bettinger approached Fletcher and said, “Coach, you were right. It was pretty loud.”

Patriot in the mix

Patriot secured the first state tournament berth in its brief history with a 3-2 win at Colonial Forge. Sophomore Jacob Christian, a pitcher who started the season on varsity but got sent down to the junior varsity, bailed out the Pioneers (19-5) in relief in the seventh inning after the Eagles had loaded the bases with no outs.

“The situation wasn’t too big for him,” Patriot Coach Sammy Serrano said. “He’s a really good pitcher who’s going to eat up a lot of innings for us next year. It was good for him. It was a little bit of redemption for him from getting moved down and coming back.”

The Pioneers’ starting pitcher, senior Nick Brown, gave up a solo home run in the first inning but nothing thereafter before reaching his innings limit after the sixth. Sophomore Nate Eikhoff hit a two-run double in the middle innings. He and senior Josh Morrison each had multiple hits.

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