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Hylton advances to first baseball state semifinal in program history

By and and Steve Yanda,

Hylton’s right fielder has a trademark one-liner. If he hears someone say, “I’m joking,” he’ll pipe up and point to himself and say, “No, I’m Joe King,” even if he’s not part of the conversation. When your name is a verb, you can do things like that. First-timers find it clever. Some girls think it’s funny.

In a 2-0 home win over Nansemond River in the Virginia AAA quarterfinals Tuesday night, King interjected himself once again, only this time he did it with his bat.

In a slump for much of the season, King doubled to open the fifth inning and scored on junior Alec Bettinger’s hit for the Bulldogs’ first run. Then he knocked in the second run with a two-out hit in the sixth inning to lift Hylton to the first state semifinal appearance in program history.

“It’s a huge deal to me,” said King. “I haven’t had my game this whole season. I finally broke out in states and it feels great to help my team out. I was seeing the ball. I hit the ball. The ball fell. It just happened every way I wanted it to.”

Bettinger struck out six and walked two in an 82-pitch two-hitter so breezy the Warriors, who had runners thrown out at home and third, need not have shut off the bus.

Bettinger, who has committed to Virginia, had some inside information. He has a friend downstate who has pitched against Nansemond River (19-7), the Eastern Region runner-up, and if the Bulldogs (21-4) end up winning the state title, they might want to order that kid a ring.

“It was unbelievable,” Hylton Coach Craig Flesher said. “I had driven down Saturday to watch these guys play and I came back with this big detailed report. I’m going over the scouting report in practice [Monday] and Alec knew player by player exactly what I was saying. It was crazy.”

Hylton advances to face Lake Braddock (24-3) at 3 p.m. Friday at Westfield in the semifinals, the Bruins’ second trip to the semis in five years.

Lake Braddock won 9-0 at Cosby (21-5) on Wednesday, aided by seven hit batsmen and a two-hit, six-inning effort from junior Thomas Rogers, who struck out four and walked none.

The Tuesday quarterfinal between Freedom-South Riding (18-7) and Eastern Region champion Kellam (24-2) at Old Dominion University was postponed to 6 p.m. Wednesday. That winner will face James River-Midlothian at 7 p.m. Friday at Westfield.

The state championship is at 3 p.m. Saturday at Westfield.

‚óŹJAMES RIVER-MIDLOTHIAN 6, WEST SPRINGFIELD 1: The host Spartans struggled to crack one of the top pitchers in the state and saw their season come to an end in a AAA quarterfinal.

James River left-hander Nathan Kirby, the Gatorade player of the year in Virginia, dominated West Springfield (18-10) in six innings of work. Kirby struck out 15 batters while allowing three hits and no walks. He hit one batter.

The Spartans fell into an early hole after a walk and an error on a pick-off attempt put a James River runner at second with one out in the first. The runner scored two batters later.

In the third, West Springfield senior Connor Tagg hung a curveball to James River’s Mac Caples, who deposited the pitch over the fence in left-center for a two-run homer.

The Spartans got on the board in the sixth after the first two batters reached base. Junior Taylor Boyd stole third and then advanced home after a wild throw by the James River catcher. Kirby struck out three straight batters to end the threat.

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