SALEM -- Strasburg has played this season like a team determined to erase the bitter taste of a pair of early playoff exits over the last two years. The Rams have already made that disappointment a distant memory, but they took one more step towards their ultimate goal on Friday in the Group 2A baseball state semifinals against Randolph-Henry at Kiwanis Field.
Strasburg got an outstanding starting pitching performance from senior Tyler Doman, and the Rams backed their ace with clutch hitting and plenty of run support in a 6-0 win over the Statesmen.
The victory advances the Rams to today's Group 2A state championship game against Virginia High School at Radford University. Game time is scheduled for 1 p.m.
"We've worked our butts off this year from the beginning of February," Rams senior second baseman Evan Snapp said. "... We knew we had a chance this year. We knew we had a pretty good team, and we've all worked hard to get to this moment and I think we're just ready to take the next step."
Strasburg (24-1), which has now won 22 straight games, gave Doman an early lead on Friday by scoring a run in each of the first four innings, and the senior right-hander took care of the rest.
Doman appeared to get stronger and more effective as the game went on. After allowing six hits and stranding eight base runners through the first four innings, he allowed just one hit over the final three.
Doman struck out six batters and walked four to go along with seven hits in his complete-game shutout. Rams coach Jeff Smoot praised Doman's ability to limit the production from the top of Randolph-Henry's lineup.
"It was stressful the first few innings, but after that I settled down," Doman said. "I felt great after that. And knowing that [my defense] was going to make plays behind me, there was nothing to worry about."
Randolph-Henry (20-5) put pressure on Doman and the Rams' defense early, as an Eric Jones walk was sandwiched between singles by Josh Jones and Drew Jackson to load the bases with one out in the top of the first inning. But Doman got back-to-back strikeouts to escape the jam.
"Tyler was Tyler. He gets himself in a little trouble, then he's able to get himself out," Smoot said. "It seemed like he was able to make a pitch every time that he needed to."
Strasburg got the lead quickly against Statesmen left-hander Rice Hancock in the bottom of the first. Rams leadoff man Ryan Murphy was hit by a pitch and moved to third on a pair of groundouts.
Snapp then plated Murphy as he beat out an infield single on a grounder into the hole on the left side of the infield.
"We practice a lot with two-strike hitting, widen the stance a little bit and shorten up the swing," said Snapp, who went 1-for-3 with two RBIs. "... I think all of our guys are pretty confident with the bat in our hands. We're all pretty comfortable and know that we can get the job done."
After Doman stranded two more Randolph-Henry runners in the top of the second, the Rams added another run on a two-out RBI bunt single by Murphy that scored Noah St. Clair to give Strasburg a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the inning.
Murphy (1-for-1, two walks) reached base four times and scored twice, but he also delivered in the field for the Rams on Friday.
The Statesmen threatened again in the third inning as they put runners on the corners with one out, but Doman induced a Logan Moon grounder to Snapp at second. Snapp immediately flipped to Murphy at second base, and the shortstop fired a throw to first as he went airborne to avoid Cameron Vassar's slide, completing the double play to end the inning.
"I knew the guy was on third, so I had to make sure I stayed on the base," Murphy said. "I planted and I ended up right in the baseline, so I had to jump over him."
Strasburg added another two-out run in the third as freshman Josh Pritchett (2-for-3) continued his hot streak in the playoffs with an RBI single that scored Doman.
Rams senior Ian Butler delivered the game's only extra-base hit in the fourth inning, as he sent a soaring fly ball over the fence in left field that gave Strasburg a 4-0 lead.
"[Hancock] threw me a curveball for a ball, so it was 1-0 and I was just sitting fastball," said Butler, who was 2-for-3. "I got a fastball down and in and I just crushed it."
Hancock, who appeared to feel some discomfort on a pitch to Pritchett during the third inning, lasted four innings and allowed four earned runs on five hits and four walks while striking out two. He entered the game with a 1.27 ERA.
Strasburg added two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Snapp battled through a seven-pitch at-bat against Statesmen reliever Derek Horvath before hitting a sacrifice fly that scored Murphy. Ryan Smoot, who also tagged up on Snapp's fly out, scored on a wild pitch with two outs to give Strasburg a 6-0 lead.
"Offensively we were outstanding," Jeff Smoot said. "We played the game pitch-by-pitch and at-bat by at-bat and battled in there all afternoon. We didn't put a lot of crooked numbers on the board, but we were able to be really efficient in what we were doing."
Strasburg will now look to continue its impressive streak against Virginia High School, which beat Madison County, 12-0, in the first semifinal game behind a no-hit performance by starting pitcher Austin Miles.
"We've just got to do what we did today. Don't give up at-bats and pitch well. Hopefully we'll get the win," Murphy said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD