By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Broad Run baseball coach Pat Cassidy could sense Sherando was gaining momentum and about to steal away Monday's Region II quarterfinal game.
Sherando's Tre Porter had just hit a two-run double to deep left and the Warriors -- with their bats absent most of the way -- were down only one run in the sixth inning.
What Cassidy did next might cause baseball purists to scratch their heads. With one out, Cassidy elected to intentionally walk Sherando slugger Derek Reid -- putting the potential winning run on base.
Better that than have Reid take a pitch out of the park, Cassidy reasoned.
The ploy worked to perfection, as Broad Run pitcher Taylor Clarke got out of trouble by retiring Zach Carney on a fly to left and striking out Brogan Hoover to end the inning.
"I've never seen a kid like [Clarke] that can pound the strike zone like him," Cassidy said.
Clarke kept dazzling with a perfect seventh to clinch Broad Run's 4-3 win.
When Reid stepped up in the sixth, the senior catcher already had ripped Clarke twice -- including a line-drive RBI single in the first to put the Warriors (18-5) up 1-0.
"[Reid's] good enough that he can beat you with a swing," Cassidy said. "We wanted to create a force-out situation. We're lucky a kid like Taylor [three walks all season] can put the ball over the plate, so you can put one guy on and it's not going to bite you in the back.
"It's one of those things if it works you're a genius. If not, you get to think about it the whole off-season."
After a sharp groundout to short in the fourth, Reid came up again when Sherando was finding bat speed again and making positive contributions. No hit for a potential win would play out again for Reid, whose two-run walk-off single beat Skyline in the Northwestern District semifinals.
The way Clarke (9-1) was dealing, the Warriors had to be wondering if they would have a late-inning rally available to them.
A single up the middle by Porter (2-for-3) led off the Sherando first and Jacob Carney sacrificed him over to second. Reid then slammed his run-scoring hit into left for the lead before Zac Carney lined into a double-play at short.
Beginning with the twin-killing, Clarke would retire 13 in a row.
"He struck a few guys out, but he's more of a contact pitcher," Cassidy said. "He doesn't get a ton of movement on the ball, but he does throw it over the plate. The bottom line is he doesn't give it away. You're either going to hit it and beat him or you're going to hit it to us and let us play defense."
In his complete-game performance, Clarke gave up five hits, three earned runs, one walk (intentional), and struck out seven. The righty threw 59 of 86 pitches for strikes.
"Coach Cassidy called a good game and I had defense behind me," Clarke said. "I just thought I started to settle down and had a little less stress. I had a little bit of the jitters early on, and I felt good the rest of the way."
With his team scoring runs in only two innings, Sherando coach Pepper Martin felt his team just didn't get enough balls hit in play to drop for hits.
"I mean, we hit the ball, but we hit it at people," Martin said. "I mean, [Clarke's] a good pitcher, don't get me wrong. But it wasn't anything he was doing that was making us look bad at the plate."
With their season slipping away, the Warriors (18-5) found some life in the sixth. Levi McDonald singled sharply up the middle leading off, the Warriors' first hit since Reid's single in the first. Dominique Porter then hit a one-chop grounder up the middle that just got by shortstop Conner Jessop for a hit, leaving the Warriors two on and no outs.
Tre Porter then followed with his clutch, two-RBI hit. After Jacob Carney flew out, the stage was set with Reid coming to the plate.
The Spartans (19-4) got just six hits off Sherando, but made most of them count.
A two-base error on A. J. Powell's leadoff grounder to third baseman Jacob Carney got a rally started in the second for Broad Run. One walk later, Zach Carney gave up a two-run double to Johnny Meier (2-for-3) that gave the Spartans a 2-1 lead.
Zach Carney (five-plus innings, six hits, three earned runs, one walk, one strikeout) settled in and did not get touched again until the sixth. Nick Richardson (2-for-3) looped a leadoff single into left and Zach Rawson followed with an RBI triple to left-center. After going to 2-2 in the count to Powell, Carney had to be lifted due to a blister on his pitching hand.
The first pitch reliever Tre Porter threw resulted in a sacrifice fly to left by Powell to bring in the all-important fourth run.
Porter ended up retiring all six hitters he faced, striking out four.
For Broad Run, its trip west this time went better. In the same round last season, Sherando topped the Spartans 7-2 on the same field.
"It felt good to get a little payback from last year," Clarke said.
Sherando had to replace three top pitchers and three all-district position players from 2009, but Martin was happy this season's group had success and got the program back to the region tournament.
"I can't say enough about this group of [eight] seniors," Martin said. "We were one [win] shy of getting back to where we [finished] last year. They really answered the call for us."