By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY --Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy starting pitcher Mike Powell needed a little run support in the worst way on Thursday afternoon.
Teammate Matt Rogers, ensnared in a mini-slump, was anxious to provide it.
Fresta Valley pitcher Shane Buss accommodated both Patriots with a rare mistake, a hanging curveball in the bottom of the fifth inning that Rogers ripped into left field for a two-run triple that jump-started SVCA to a 4-0 victory.
Those runs were a boost for Powell, who had a no-hitter going at the time. Powell lost that with one out in the sixth and settled for at two-hit shutout.
"That took a lot of pressure off of me up on the mound," Powell said. "I got to settle in and pitch a good game."
For much of the game, Powell and Buss traded zeros. The Patriots threatened in the first when Powell stroked a one-out single and stole second and third, but SVCA (8-5) couldn't plate him.
Fresta Valley's Brandon Worsham reached base with a walk with two outs in the second, but was eventually stranded at third.
SVCA's Samantha Yarnall started another rally in the bottom of the second with a lead-off double and two outs later Min Young Jung walked and moved to second on a passed ball, but Buss once more escaped the jam with a strikeout.
The Pioneers were back at it in the fourth. Evan Stalker reached on an error to lead off and stole second. One out later, he moved to third when Powell's pickoff throw sailed wide of the bag. Brett Sumrall followed with a hard liner that SVCA second baseman Cody Robertson snared for the second out. Stalker was running all the way on the play, and Robertson cut across the diamond and flipped a throw to third for the inning-ending double play.
Buss finally found real trouble in the fifth when he plunked leadoff hitter Madison Brewer with a pitch and walked Jung. One out later, Powell unloaded on a tantalizing pitch to put the Patriots ahead. On contact, Fresta Valley's left fielder took a step in. He should have been sprinting for the fence, where Powell's shot ended up on one bounce.
"I yelled out there, 'Nothing over your head,' and we didn't hear it," Fresta Valley coach William Keller said. "So they got one over our head. That pretty much was the end of the ballgame, whether they scored any more runs or not. That was it."
Rogers, one of SVCA's better hitters, was just glad to finally notch another hit.
"I've been in a slump lately, so it was nice to finally get out of it, Rogers said. "That was my first hit in two games. He threw a lot of pitches so it kind of slowed down at the end. It just hung there. I definitely had to swing at that one. It was like candy."
In the top of the sixth, Ryan Finn's clean single to left field broke up Powell's no-hitter. It was still a strong outing for the senior right-hander, who hadn't pitched in nearly two weeks. Powell allowed just two hits and walked one while striking out eight.
Bobby Albright gave the Patriots more cushion later in the inning with a two-run single.
"We kept his pitch count down," Wheelock said. "Everybody made the plays behind him -- that was huge. I think most of the batters, he got ahead [in the count] which was real big. He did what he needed to do, and that's what we've expected from him all year."
Buss was nearly as good, giving up four hits and two walks while fanning 10.
The Pioneers threatened one last time in the top of the seventh when Andrew Lambdin led off with a double and Sumrall reached on an error to put runners at second and third with no outs. Powell then induced a pop-up for the first out before striking out the last two batters to end the game and lock up an automatic berth in the upcoming Virginia Association of Christian Athletics (VACA) state tournament.
Powell pitched in that same tournament as a freshman in 2010, helping the Patriots win the state championship.
"That's good, being my senior year, to get a chance to get another ring," Powell said.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>