The queasy feeling Handley senior Todd Lewis usually experiences before games was missing today when he took the mound in the Virginia AA championship. He was confident his team was going to win the state title.
Thanks largely to his five-hitter, Lewis was right. The Winchester school defeated Rustburg of Lynchburg, 5-1, at Kiwanis Field to earn its 16th straight victory and capture its first baseball state championship.
"You can't put words to how good this feels," said Lewis, who was perfect through four innings and finished with 10 strikeouts, while yielding one earned run in seven innings. "This team played as one the whole year. We never doubted ourselves and came to play with the same attitude from the beginning of the season through today. There was no reason to be nervous."
While Lewis cruised through the Rustburg (21-4) lineup, the sixth-ranked Judges took full advantage of the Red Devils' defensive miscues to manufacture runs.
Handley (25-1) scored runs on a ball that deflected off the pitcher's glove, a botched suicide squeeze that resulted in a steal of home plate, and a hit and run without a hit -- when Jermain Walker danced around the third baseman's tag and scored on a groundout.
"The core group of these kids have been in these types of pressure situations before," said Handley Coach Terry Shickle, referring to the several members of his team that led the school to the state semifinals in football and the quarterfinals in basketball. "They know how to handle themselves and take advantage of the opponents' nerves. That, a little luck and the fact that none of these kids have any egos and just come to play is what has made this group so memorable."
Lewis, a right-hander, gave up only two hits through five innings, before three straight hits from Rustburg in the sixth ended the shutout. But by then a close, well-pitched game through three innings had turned into a 5-0 Handley advantage.
Lewis's overpowering fastball returned in the seventh as he struck out two and got Luke Ragland to fly to right field to secure the victory.
ESSEX 4, STRASBURG 1: In Salem, Matthew Tignor threw a seven-hitter and went 2 for 2 with an RBI to lead the Tappahannock school to its first Virginia A baseball championship.
Strasburg (22-4), which was appearing in its first baseball state title game, got on the scoreboard first with a run on two hits in the first inning. But in the final six innings, the Rams managed five hits and got only two runners in scoring position -- Charlie Drummond, who doubled in the fourth, and another in a small seventh-inning rally.
"We just couldn't stay off his breaking ball," Strasburg Coach Jeff Smoot said. "We were just not patient enough and not willing to take it the other way."
Essex (21-3) tied the game in the bottom of the first, then took the lead with two runs on three singles, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly in the fourth. They added a fourth run on an over 400-foot solo home run by ninth-place hitter Nathan Burrell in the fifth inning.
Loudoun County Blues
Loudoun County has never won a state championship in a team sport since opening in 1954. The Leesburg school had two opportunities yesterday to capture that elusive first title, but fell short in both attempts.
The Loudoun County girls soccer team lost to Jamestown, 2-1, in the Virginia AA final at Cave Spring Junior High in Roanoke. This is the first year that the Virginia High School League has sponsored a state tournament for Group AA girls soccer.
The Raiders (18-5), the Region II champion, outshot Jamestown, 12-11, but their opponent scored the first two goals of the second half. Loudoun County freshman Erin Rowley scored in the final minute from 18 yards into the upper right corner of the goal.
Earlier at Virginia Tech, the Loudoun County boys tennis team fell in the Group AA finals, 5-4, to Heritage of Lynchburg. The Raiders (18-1) won the Northwestern District and Region II titles with a senior-dominated lineup -- five of their six players were seniors.
Seniors Jared Anderson (No. 2 singles), Chris Downs (No. 5 singles) and junior Matt Brandon (No. 4 singles) were victorious for the Raiders, as was the No. 2 doubles team of Brandon and senior Phil Griffith.