By Brian Eller - email@example.com
ALTAVISTA -- Frank Kopa's head sank as he jogged off the mound and into right field.
Central coach Don Foltz had seen enough. After five runs allowed and just two outs to show for it, the Falcons starting pitcher was finished for the night.
Altavista, however, was just getting started. Behind an explosive offense, the Colonels jumped on the Falcons, blasting their way to a 16-5 win to advance to the Region B tournament championship.
"It wasn't nearly how we predicted this one," Kopa said. "We wanted to come out firing, but that five-run first inning really got us down. They just drilled the ball on us and we didn't make plays. Eventually we were too far down to come back."
All postseason, the Falcons have played the role of comeback kids. Central came back to defeat Buffalo Gap in the district playoffs, then earned a Cinderella-like 3-2 win over George Mason in the quarterfinals of the regional tournament. On Wednesday night, however, there was no comeback.
With Kopa on the mound, Altavista's offense got to work, as a single and a walk put two runners on to start the inning. After a flyout, the Colonels' cleanup hitter, Scott Dalton, smacked a two-run double, giving Altavista a 2-0 cushion. Though Dalton was thrown out trying to dash to third base, the nightmare for Kopa was only beginning. Kopa plunked the next batter, then allowed pitcher Trae Lambert to reach base on a single. Then, Kopa let a pitch hang in the strike zone and catcher Jake Reynolds made him pay, hitting a three-run home run over the right-field wall and giving the Colonels a 5-0 lead.
"It's just a rough start," Foltz said. "It's what happens sometimes. We just hoped it wouldn't happen tonight, not tonight. But they put the ball in play pretty good."
Following the home run, Kopa allowed the next two batters to reach, leaving Foltz no choice but to bring in a reliever. Kopa, meanwhile, moved to right field, where the senior could only watch as his team tried to get out of the inning.
The Falcons eventually got out of the jam, but in the second inning Altavista's bats brought more of the same firepower. Hitters A.J. Cartolaro and Ricky Adams led off with back-to-back singles off pitcher Adam Marston, then later scored on a sacrifice from Leighton Bennett and a throwing error from the Falcons. Two more runs from the Colonels ballooned the lead to 9-0 after just two innings.
Although faced with a huge deficit, Central's offense began to come alive in the third, as the Falcons manufactured three hits and brought catcher Kohly Hawkins in to score.
Any momentum would be short-lived, however, as the Colonels scored one more run in the third inning, then piled on four more in the fourth inning.
"We knew that we were down and we just stayed down," Kopa said. "That really killed us. It just hurt a lot."
But while their psyches were in frail condition, Central's bats continued to pound away against Lambert, who wasn't free from error himself. In the fifth inning, the Falcons scored four runs as Seth Bauserman and Juan Troncoso each hit two-run home runs to cut Altavista's lead to nine. That would be as close as the Falcons would get, however, as the Colonels put two more runs on the board in the fifth inning, coasting to the 16-5 win.
"[Our guys] could've rolled over, but they kept going at it and I thought we hit the ball pretty well," Foltz said. "You've just got to tip your hat to them, they brought the sticks tonight [and] we just didn't combat that."
The win for Altavista moves them into the regional championship game, while the Falcons are left to lick their wounds and look toward next season. For the seniors, including Kopa, this wasn't the way they imagined their season ending, but compared to how it started, it's a nice finish.
"We have come a long way," Kopa said. "We went 1-8 to start out the season and I had my doubts, but this team really showed me.
"They proved me wrong and we really showed everyone that we can play."