By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Derek Buckley found out he was going to make his first career pitching start for Strasburg just hours before Saturday night's championship game of the Ram Hardball Classic.
A regular at catcher the last few seasons and the reigning Bull Run District Player of the Year, Buckley never imagined he would throw a complete game. Buckley allowed hard-hitting Group AA foe Goochland to hit just one homer out of First Bank Park and the Rams coasted to a 9-4 win.
"I was not really looking to go real deep in the game, [since] I had never started before," Buckley said. "I was just going out there trying to throw strikes and work the [pitch] counts."
Buckley felt comfortable enough to finish, largely because his defense made plays. After shortstop Zach Cover made a brilliant play in the hole to record the second out of the seventh, Buckley put his complete game in the book with his final strikeout.
"It's a big motivation kind of thing because you know even if they do hit it, you've got somebody back there playing hard and getting outs for you," Buckley said.
Strasburg (6-1) has won the event each of the last three seasons and five of six times since its inception in 2005.
"We played pretty well tonight and we all believe we beat a pretty good team," Strasburg coach Jeff Smoot said. "Derek [Buckley] threw pretty well for a first start. We were going to see how long he could [pitch] and certainly we weren't trying to extend [his innings].
"But he had some innings where he got some outs early in the count, and we got a lead for him."
Buckley realized the importance of beating a quality team like Goochland (7-1), which has opened 3-0 in the always-tough Jefferson District.
"This is big because they are a really good team," Buckley said. "You could see how they carried themselves on and off the field. They swing the bats really well, so I think it was a big win for us."
In the consolation game, Moorefield, W.Va., picked up a 12-1 win over Warren County.
Because of his value to the Rams behind the plate, Buckley has pitched just a few innings in his career. Buckley closed several games in 2009 and had seen some late-inning duty in a few earlier games this season.
Buckley allowed single runs in each of the first three innings Saturday, including a pair of RBI hits from Austin Jordan and Colby Carter's leadoff homer to left in the second. But for the most part, Buckley handled himself well. He allowed eight hits, three earned runs, just one walk, and struck out eight. He also threw 67 of 93 pitches for strikes and never made more than 17 pitches in an inning.
"He was able to throw strikes," Smoot said. "I think he was able to throw his fastball on both sides of the plate. In fact, I think he was able to locate a little bit better in the mid-part of the game, maybe, than he was in the beginning of the game."
The Rams trailed 3-1 before scoring twice on a double-error in the third inning. With two runners aboard, Mitchell Wilson hit a sharp, one-out grounder to short. The ball kicked past Kevin Carroll for an error, allowing Buckley to score. Once he got the relay from the outfield, Carroll threw wide of third and into Strasburg's dugout. Michael Reynolds came home on the second error to tie the game.
Goochland starter Alec Moore was knocked out in the fourth, after the Rams batted around and scored four runs to take control of the game.
Daniel Reynolds led off with a walk and moved to second on Cover's single up the middle. Sheldon Stickley then dropped a smooth bunt single up the third-base line to load the bases.
Buckley's single to center drove in Daniel Reynolds with the go-ahead run, just before Michael Reynolds sent his sharp liner off the right foot of Moore. The ball caromed over to third, and Goochland was able to get the force at home.
Play was stopped to check on Moore, who made a few warmup tosses and stayed in. It then became clear Moore would not be able to continue when he hit Strasburg's next batter, Wilson, to force in a run.
The Bulldogs brought on Kyle Tormey, who was greeted with an RBI single to left by Klay Fogle. The Rams then moved ahead 7-3 when Todd Dean's fielder's choice grounder scored Michael Reynolds.
"It was a big time in the game and a lot of people stepped up right there," Buckley said. "They weren't even hard base hits, but they were enough to get runs in."
Dean (1-for-3, two RBIs) had a run-scoring triple in the sixth and did a solid job catching Buckley. The freshman had just one passed ball in his most extensive action of the season.
"[Dean's] really stepping up right now," Buckley said. "He works hard back there, and it shows."
Buckley paced Strasburg's nine-hit attack by going 2-for-4 with a double and RBI. Michael Reynolds scored three runs for the Rams, who have won six straight since a season-opening loss at Page County.