By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Tre Porter had to settle for less than he wanted Thursday night at Bing Crosby Stadium, and the Sherando High School right-hander was none too happy about it afterward.
Porter almost grudgingly acknowledged pitching well enough to earn a four-hit, complete-game victory against Handley in a one-game playoff for the Northwestern District baseball regular-season championship.
Porter settled for six innings of flat-out dominance, and one not-so-stellar frame to lead the Warriors to a 9-4 victory over the Judges. He had to settle for the win after retiring 10 straight batters to open the game and was just two infield hits short of a no-hitter through six innings. Porter had to settle for outstanding, not spectacular.
"He's a special player," Handley coach Eddie Simmons said. "Anytime they've got him on the hill, they've got a chance to win the ballgame.
"He has the ability to come out and completely take a team out of what they do, and that's what he did to us. And he's to be commended for that -- when he does what he does, he's tough to beat and tonight he was dealing."
Sherando (16-4) staked Porter to an early lead with a two-run rally in the third on RBI singles from Brogan Hoover and Erik Albers, then broke the game open with a seven-run outburst in the fifth inning. After Handley starting pitcher Nolan Potts issued a pair of walks and allowed a single to load the bases with no outs, Sherando's Zach Carney got the rally started with a sacrifice fly RBI against reliever Cody Unger. Then the Warriors turned up the heat, pulling off a double steal as Jacob Carney swiped third and courtesy runner Carter Simmers took second. Handley catcher Cody Crenshaw's throw to third on the steal was off line and sailed into the outfield as Jacob Carney scored and Simmers moved up another base.
One batter later, Hoover singled in Sherando's third run of the inning, then promptly stole second before Albers drew a walk. The Warriors then executed their second double steal of the inning, and one out later Jared Bentley drove in another run with an RBI single and took second on the throw home. He didn't stay long, as Dominique Porter capped the rally with a two-run triple to right field.
"We ran the bases smartly and aggressively tonight," said Sherando coach Pepper Martin, whose squad stole six bases in the fifth. "A lot of our aggressive baserunning contributed to that seven-run inning."
Up by nine runs, the Warriors seemed comfortably in command with Tre Porter on the mound. Sean Kelly became Handley's first base runner when he slapped a bunt that sailed past the mound for an infield hit, and Jacob Rudolph benefited from a bad hop when his chopper crossed up Sherando shortstop Jacob Carney for another infield hit. Through those first five innings, Tre Porter only let one ball out of the infield.
"I knew I had to throw strikes," Porter said. "And once I got 0-2 on the batter, I just felt real comfortable throwing my off-speed pitches. That's all it really took -- if it got to 0-2, I knew I could get the batter out."
Sherando's defense helped out when necessary. In the fourth, Warriors second baseman Bradley Deck ranged deep into the hole to chase down Cody Crenshaw's grounder and throw him out by a step to end the inning. Then in the fifth, the Judges' Rudolph reached on an error and stole second. Derek Reid, the Warriors' catcher, fired a high throw to second that sailed into the outfield as Rudolph scrambled up and started running for third. Hoover, playing center, booted the ball as Rudolph headed for home. But Hoover recovered, tracked down the ball and fired home to Reid to nail the Handley runner at the plate by three steps.
"It just took a weird hop and I kicked it," Hoover said. "I just turned and chucked it, and hoped it made it to Derek. He did a good job of squeezing it and tagging the kid out."
Porter gave up a two-out walk in the sixth -- his first -- but emerged unscathed and with his shutout intact heading into the seventh. But Handley (8-13), which scored three runs with two outs in the seventh to beat James Wood the night before to force this playoff, had one last rally left for the regular season. Cody Unger and pinch-hitter Will McHugh drew consecutive walks to lead off the inning, and one out later Rudolph came up with Handley's first clean hit on a single to right to load the bases. Cory Crenshaw followed with a three-run triple to right-center to clear the bases. Crenshaw eventually scored on an error, but it wasn't enough to save the Judges.
"We've said it before -- our guys are never going to quit, they're going to always continue to play and even if the game's out of hand they're going to do what they can to try to improve, to become better so they're not put in that situation again," Simmons said. "They were playing that last inning for pride."
Handley will be playing for more than that when the Judges face Millbrook in Saturday's Northwestern District tournament semifinals at Handley. The Warriors have already secured their spot in the Region II tournament, but don't expect them to lighten up against Skyline in Saturday's semifinals.
"Go hard or go home," Tre Porter said. "We've got to go hard through this tournament and win it, then go into regionals with a good seed."