Greenbrier Park, Yorktown’s home baseball field, is snug between home plate and the backstop, which can make it feel as if the bleachers and ground-level press box are right on top of the plate.
“When things are going good, it’s the best place to be,” Patriots senior catcher Red Dowdell said. “When things are going bad, though, you want to get out of there.”
Being at the plate and behind it was by all means a good place for Dowdell on Friday night. He tripled in a run in the fifth inning and doubled home the winning run in the bottom of the seventh on a full-count, no-out pitch in a 3-2 victory over Hayfield. The win nudges the Patriots one step closer to claiming the Virginia AAA National District title.
Both hits scored junior Ben Criswell, who had three hits of his own.
Dowdell, a Virginia Military Institute signee, said Hayfield senior right-hander Cameron Lundmark, the Hawks’ starting pitcher and a friend of his, had told him before the game that he was going to pitch around him. Lundmark walked Dowdell in the first.
So with the game in the balance, Dowdell doubted that Lundmark would throw a hittable 3-2 pitch with a runner on base.
“It actually helped me relax in the end,” Dowdell said, “because I just wasn’t looking for anything in particular.”
It marked the third consecutive one-run game between the teams, including last year’s wild 17-16 district title game that Hayfield won. The Hawks also are the only National team to have beaten Yorktown this season.
Patriots right-hander John Yoest, a junior who threw that 4-3 loss to Hayfield on April 13, acknowledged he did not have his best stuff Friday night. Even so, he struck out seven and walked two, the first two strikeouts coming with the bases loaded in the top of the first, and another two ending the fifth with runners on first and second. He gave up five hits.
“Some guys fold under pressure,” Yorktown Coach Mike Ruck said. “John excels under pressure.”
Yoest gave up a run in the third when Hawks junior Robert Banks raced home on a single off the fence by senior Ben Harris. And he allowed a game-tying run in the top of the seventh when Lundmark doubled in a run on a ball that glanced off the glove of diving Yorktown senior left fielder Jordan Smith. That scored senior Zach McCraw, who had singled with one out. Then Dowdell delivered his game-winner in the bottom of the inning.
Yorktown (16-3, 12-1), which had to replace its entire infield off last year’s team and lost junior third baseman-pitcher Daniel Overbeek to a preseason injury, did not commit an error. Hayfield (11-6, 10-3), which had won eight of nine, committed five, not including a potential inning-ending double play ball that yielded only one out in the sixth, allowing Smith to score and make it a 2-1 game.
“I don’t think I pitched one of my better games, but I definitely think as a team it was one of our best,” Yoest said. “I think the game was more impressive from a defensive standpoint. Our infield played on their bellies the entire game.”
The Patriots are seeking their fifth district title in six years and last season won a first-round Northern Region tournament game for the first time in many years, when Yoest four-hit Chantilly, with 11 strikeouts.
Dowdell, who homered twice in the subsequent region quarterfinal loss to Madison, believes the Patriots could equal or better that finish this season. And he would like to think that Friday night was not his final big-game-on-the-line plate appearance.
“That’s what every kid dreams about when you’re hitting in a sandlot with sticks and rocks,” he said. “You’re thinking about that right there. That’s exactly where I wanted to be.”