On Tuesday night in a Virginia AA Region II quarterfinal at home against Millbrook, James got only one shot at the plate, but he made the most of it in a 1-0, season-sustaining victory.
Replaced in the lineup after struggling in his previous game, James fought off an 0-2 count to poke a single to left field to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning, and the batter he had hit for, senior James Pearson, re-entered and raced home from second on a two-out single from freshman Michael Smith for the lone run in a game delayed for 45 minutes by lightning that struck during warmups.
“Coach [Joe Terango] told me at the beginning of the game to be ready just in case he needed me to get in,” said James, who got the grab-a-bat directive as his teammates were coming off the field after the top of the sixth.
“I was ready to go. I feel like that’s the one time you really want to shine and show that you can do it and that you’re put in that spot for a reason. I kind of like that pressure.”
Smith, who hit the first pitch to drive in the game-winner, has batted cleanup or third all season for the Panthers, a role he said he did not expect to have as a freshman third baseman.
Left-handed starting pitcher Pearson struck out seven and walked none in another stellar outing, this one a three-hitter, but he had to wait a just a smidge longer to close the deal. Millbrook senior Daniel Nawrocki, who allowed only four hits in the pitchers’ duel, reached on a two-out dribbler to third in the top of the seventh, and then a dropped foul tip gave Millbrook senior James Morse one more shot at the plate. Morse grounded out to first to end it.
“The past few games, I really wasn’t getting my breaking ball down for a strike,” Pearson said. “But today, I was being more effective [with that]. It was helping me out a lot more.”
“I feel so comfortable when he’s on the mound,” James said. “It’s like I have no worries.”
Potomac Falls will host Woodgrove, a 10-4 winner overMonticello, in Thursday’s semifinals..
Millbrook (12-11) got a runner past second only once, when Nawrocki singled to left to lead off the fifth, stole second and took third on a one-out sacrifice. The next batter, freshman Alexander Amos, lifted a fly ball that Potomac Falls sophomore second baseman Charlie Curtis tracked down with a running grab toward the left field line.
Potomac Falls (20-4) got two runners on in the third when sophomore Jordan Brown, who had replaced James in the lineup, drew a one-out, full-count walk and took third on senior Brandon Orbe’s two-out single to center.
The Panthers stranded both runners, and that was their only meaningful opportunity until Smith knocked in the decisive run, again justifying his high-profile spot in the batting order.
“We knew he had a nice swing, we knew he had a nice approach, and we knew he could make contact,” Terango said. “We put him in the four spot just to let him fail, and then we were going to move him down. And he never did [fail]. He rose to the challenge and he’s driven in a lot of runs for us this year.”
Smith moved to the third spot from cleanup after senior second baseman Jared Goldberg injured his elbow earlier in the month. Goldberg likely would be able to return to the lineup if the Panthers qualify for the state tournament, Terango said.
The Panthers’ last four wins, including three in the Dulles District tournament, have come by a total of five runs.
Loudoun Valley senior Danny White threw a perfect game for nine innings, when state rules dictated that he leave the game, but he and the Vikings ended up losing at Sherando, 1-0, on a walk-off home run to open the bottom of the 13th.
White struck out only three, but Loudoun Valley Coach Wayne Todd called it the most dominant pitching performance he had seen in his 17 years at the school, with White throwing almost exclusively fastballs.
Senior Max Hughes pitched three scoreless innings of relief before surrendering the home run to Chase Smallwood that was earmarked for over the fence the moment it left his bat.
“It was a no-doubter,” Todd said. “We had opportunities all night long and couldn’t get one. I don’t even want to see how many runners we left in scoring position tonight. We couldn’t get a hit when we needed to.”
Sherando managed three hits, a triple in the 11th, an infield hit in the 12th and the homer in the 13th, said Todd, whose Vikings end the year with a 16-9 record.
White had been throwing up in the dugout Monday in the win over Heritage, and running a fever, so Todd was not sure that he would be able to pitch Tuesday and ended up getting nine perfect innings out of him.
“It’s hard to say since we lost, but it was probably one of the best high school games I’ve ever coached, and I’ve coached in some big ones,” Todd said.