By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STRASBURG -- For six innings Riverheads was out-playing Strasburg in basically every way. Luckily for the Rams, there's a seventh inning.
Strasburg rallied from a three-run deficit for a 4-3 victory over the Gladiators on Monday night in the Region 2A East baseball quarterfinals.
Strasburg trailed 3-0 entering the bottom of the seventh, but the team still had every belief it would come back and win. That belief increased as Riverheads starter Ethan Whitehead struggled to start the inning.
"We knew we weren't done," Strasburg senior Tyler Doman said. "When he started throwing some balls, we knew we were making him nervous. We knew we weren't done."
And the Rams weren't done. Mark Smoot led off the inning by drawing a walk from Whitehead. Nathan Butler then drew a walk of his own, which chased Whitehead from the game.
Riverheads senior John Weeks came on in relief and immediately walked Ian Butler to load the bases with no outs.
"The guys that ended the inning and got base hits will a lot of credit, and it's justified," Strasburg coach Jeff Smoot said. "But, those guys that led off the inning and were able to fight their way to a base on balls and give us a chance, their at-bats were just as significant in all that."
One out later, Strasburg junior Ryan Smoot singled to cut the lead to 3-1.
"I was just trying to go up there and drive a pitch," Ryan Smoot said. "He had a hard breaking ball and a fastball, and I was just trying to stay back and put the ball in play and I found a gap."
Ian Baker then followed with a single, scoring Nathan Butler, and Ian Butler beat the Gladiators' wild throw home to tie the game.
"I wasn't looking for anything really specific, just a pitch I could do something with and put in play," Baker said. "And that's what I got. First-pitch fastball, I did something with it, and got it done."
The Gladiators (21-2) intentionally walked Evan Snapp, bringing Doman to the plate with one out. Doman singled into left field for the game-winning hit, and extending the Rams' winning streak to 19 games.
"I was looking to get a fastball, something I could drive," Doman said. "We weren't having quality at-bats [earlier in the game], but we came through at the end and that's all that matters."
The Gladiators took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Zack Roberts drew a walk from Doman, and Nathan Brooks had an RBI double. Brooks later scored on an error for a 2-0 lead.
Brooks did it again in the top of the third. Roberts was hit by a pitch, and Brooks followed with another RBI double for a 3-0 lead.
Doman only gave up one hit combined in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, and said he was having trouble hitting his spots early on.
The Rams' offense wasn't helping Doman as they struggled to put runners on or get hits. The Rams (21-1) reached base at least once in five of the first six innings, but hit into two double plays and stranded five in the first six innings.
"[Whitehead] was a crafty lefty, he locates pitches well," Ryan Smoot said. "He kept us guessing, had us out on our front foot most of the night. You get a lot of ground balls. You roll over, couple double play balls come from that, bunch of pop-ups. We didn't have a very good approach, and whatever our approach was we didn't execute it very well."
Ryan Smoot kept the Rams in the game in the top of the seventh. Doman struggled in the inning, and a walk, an infield hit and a hit batsmen left the bases loaded for Ryan Smoot, who came in to relieve Doman.
Ryan Smoot struck out Brooks, who had reached base all three previous at-bats, and induced a flyout by Whitehead to end the inning.
"He faced a really good hitter [Brooks], a guy that had given us some trouble throughout the course of the night," Jeff Smoot said. "The next hitter was not an easy out. I thought Ryan handled that situation well."
The Rams will now play at Maggie Walker on Wednesday in the regional semifinals. The winner will advance to the state semifinals.
"That's been our goal all year, and we're almost there," Doman said of playing for a state berth. "It feels great."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org