Under ideal conditions, the Hylton baseball team would have remembered to pack its batting helmets for the Virginia AAA Northwest Region championship Thursday night at Freedom-South Riding. Instead, the Bulldogs had to cobble together random headware from their duffel bags.
“We looked like the Bad News Bears, mismatched helmets up there,” Hylton Coach Craig Flesher said after his team’s 13-2 win. “Raggedy. You would think Game 24 we’d remember to bring them.”
More paramount than lugging helmets to road games, however, is boarding the bus home with a scoop of dirt from the opponent’s field. The Bulldogs for the past several years have done that each time they win an away game.
At the end of the season, the prized soil, stored in a small cooler that’s toted to the road games, is scattered across Hylton’s own diamond.
Let’s just say that the Bulldogs are gaining a lot of ground these days after a 10-1 semifinal win at Colonial Forge on Wednesday — they socked five homers — and the victory at Freedom in which Hylton banged out 13 hits.
Northwest Region champion for the first time since 2001, Hylton (20-4) will host the Eastern Region runner-up Tuesday night in a state quarterfinal. Freedom (18-7), in the Virginia AAA tournament for the first time, will play at the Eastern Region champion.
Hylton will not be playing on any more opposing fields this season. The Bulldogs are at home Tuesday, and the state semifinals and championship would be at neutral site Westfield.
But the sediment, er, sentiment remains the same.
“We always bring back a piece of the field with us as remembrance that we beat them on the road,” said Hylton left fielder Buddy Meredith, the only senior in the Bulldogs’ starting lineup and the player who fetched the scoop at Freedom. “I know there are a lot of people who are like: What are they doing?”
“The kids need something to believe in, crazy little motivational things like that,” Flesher said. “As you go out and win games on the road, which we obviously think is a lot tougher, they get that little token as we go home.”
Hylton scored in five innings at Freedom, and the third through eighth spots in the lineup accounted for all 13 hits. Junior Alec Bettingerhad three, and juniors Andre Scrubb, Justin Sneed, Joe King and Jeovan Sneed had two, as did sophomore Will Frazier. Bettinger and Jeovan Sneed each had three RBI and Scrubb homered for the second straight night.
Hylton sophomore right-hander Austin Magestro went the distance, shutting down the Eagles other than allowing a two-run single in the sixth to senior Matt Malacane after two runners had reached on an error and a bunt.
Hylton has won seven of its last eight games, the loss being to Forest Park in the Cardinal District championship. The Bulldogs have outscored opponents, 78-20, during that span.
“We have to figure out what they’re eating, because they need to stay on the same diet for another week yet,” Flesher said. “They’re in a zone right now, and it’s fun to watch them.”