By Greg Brill - email@example.com
STEPHENS CITY -- Eddie Simmons got a lot of exercise in between the dugout and the mound.
The Handley baseball coach had to make two pitching changes before the second out of Tuesday night's Northwestern District final with Sherando had been recorded, and the Warriors had a 9-0 lead before the Judges would come to bat again in the second inning.
Easy enough win for top-seeded Sherando, right? Not quite.
Just like the Judges, the Warriors had their own troubles with throwing strikes and making plays in the field.
Far from an instant classic, Sherando managed to outlast Handley 12-7 in a marathon that didn't win rave reviews with Warriors coach Pepper Martin.
"It seemed like both teams were helping each other out -- either by pitchers giving up walks or the defense not making plays," Martin said. "For a district tournament championship game, this was not a well-played game by either team. And I'm sure coach Simmons would say the same thing."
The Warriors (18-4) have won five straight and will host either Broad Run or Loudoun County out of the Dulles District on Monday in the Region II quarterfinals. Handley (9-14) clinched its first region berth since 2003 with Saturday's semifinal win over Millbrook and will travel Monday to Dulles regular season champion Potomac Falls.
Sherando earned its third win in 12 days over Handley, which upset the Warriors, 4-3, on April 23 in Stephens City.
"Handley's always been a good baseball team and they've always been solid," said Sherando senior right fielder Erik Albers, who had a key hit in the Warriors' big first inning. "So once they came in and beat us on our field, we got a little upset and had to get a little revenge."
Any clue that both teams were in for a speedy outing went by the wayside when Handley's Aubrey Wilkerson opened the game with a nine-pitch at-bat against Tre Porter, resulting in a groundout. Porter walked Sean Kelly on a 3-2 pitch before fanning both Cody Unger and Cody Crenshaw after going deep in the count to both.
A 28-pitch first inning for Porter might have raised concerns for the Sherando coaching staff. That was nothing compared to what Simmons would see from his pitchers.
Freshman Reagan Potts got the start for the Judges and Porter reached on a two-base infield error by Unger to lead off the Sherando first. Jacob Carney, Derek Reid, and Zach Carney (RBI) each drew a walk, and Potts' work was done without getting an out.
On came Will McHugh, who had just as much trouble getting the Warriors out. After fanning Brogan Hoover for the first out, McHugh gave up a two-run ground single to Albers (2-for-3, two RBIs).
Brad Deck followed by drawing a walk to re-load the bases, Jared Bentley's grounder was misplayed to allow a run to score, and Dominique Porter drew a walk to force in another run and end McHugh's stint after a third of an inning.
Now it was up to Nolan Potts to slow the Sherando bats. Potts would eventually finish up (100 pitches in 6 2/3 innings), but not before he allowed some inherited runners to cross. Nolan Potts struck out Tre Porter in his second at bat, but Jacob Carney drilled a bases-clearing double to the alley in left-center to bring in Deck, Bentley and Dominique Porter.
When Reid followed with a solid single to left to plate Jacob Carney, the lead was 9-0.
"We got some help from their pitchers throwing a couple balls here and there, but we rallied and got a couple hits, got a couple runs in," Albers said. "Whenever you get the big inning, that's huge in a game."
Nolan Potts finally got the Judges out of the first by getting Zach Carney -- Sherando's 13th batter -- to hit a pop-up to shallow left that shortstop Jacob Rudolph tracked for the third out.
"It's a shame they don't give mulligans in baseball, because if we could have had that first inning over, we have a shot at this ballgame," Simmons said. "After the first inning, we outplayed them the rest of the game. Take the nine [runs] out, and the last six innings, it's 7-3 [Handley].
"Our kids made a good effort to come back, but we just dug too big of a hole early in the game by not throwing strikes. It's as simple as that."
The first inning took 45 minutes to complete, and the four pitchers used by the teams combined to make 91 pitches.
From the first inning on, the Judges competed. And though he knows the Judges well and has made the pitching start in all four games with Handley, Tre Porter had a hard time getting in a groove.
Two infield errors in the second allowed the Judges to get on the board, with RBIs coming from Sean Goodson and Ryan Hayes in the bottom of the order.
Three more runs by Handley in the third started to get Sherando's attention. The Judges batted around against Tre Porter to close to 10-5.
When Rudolph hit a tapper to first, Zach Carney felt he had the play to the bag. However, Rudolph beat Carney to first to earn an infield hit and to prompt Martin to take a few steps out of the dugout and yell "Hey, we've got nine [players] out here."
A few Handley batters later, the Warriors continued to stumble, as a sharp, one-hop grounder by Hayes to third skipped past Levi McDonald for an error, allowing two runs to score.
Tre Porter (94 pitches) would throw just four innings, and his final inning left the sophomore with more frustration. Unger (2-for-4, two runs scored) led off with a single, went to second on a balk when Porter did not pause before making a pitch to Cody Crenshaw, to third on another balk when Porter dropped the ball on the mound, and scored when Crenshaw finished his plate appearance with a sacrifice fly to make it 11-6 Sherando.
No more damage was done in the inning by the Judges and Porter (four innings, seven hits allowed, two earned runs, three walks, and two strikeouts) could relax and spend the rest of his time in the field at shortstop.
"If we play defense behind him, they don't score runs," Martin said.
The Judges got one more run in the sixth, when Rudolph (3-for-4, two runs scored, two RBIs) singled in Cody Crenshaw.
Outside of that, Zach Carney pitched well in his three innings of relief. The senior left-hander allowed just two hits, walked one and struck out four to keep the Judges from making another late-inning comeback to steal a win.
"It felt great warming up today and coach [Martin] said I was going to be the first in [relief] when Tre was finished," Zach Carney said. "It was probably the best I've spotted [pitches] for a while. I was nice to see, especially since the last time I pitched against Handley [on May 13] I gave up [three runs] in the last inning. It was nice to get three quick innings."
Brad Deck (2-for-4, two RBIs) doubled in Hoover in the sixth to provide the Warriors with their final run.