By Tommy Keeler Jr.
RICHMOND -- Strasburg baseball coach Jeff Smoot preaches to his team to be mentally tough. This week has shown that his players have definitely been listening.
The Rams broke open a tie game with a four-run seventh en route to an 8-4 victory over Maggie Walker Governors School on Wednesday night at J.R. Tucker High School in the Region 2A East semifinals. The win moves the Rams into the state semifinals.
"Coach [Smoot] always tells us if you can't be physically strong, at least be mentally strong," Strasburg freshman Josh Pritchett said. "That's helped us win games."
It did again on Wednesday night. The Rams, who rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the seventh inning on Monday, trailed 3-0 after the first inning.
With the game tied at 4-4 in the top of the seventh, Ryan Smoot led of with a double to right field off Maggie Walker reliever Matthew Pinson.
"I was looking for a fastball, and he threw me a breaking ball, but I was able to lay off of it," Ryan Smoot said. "So, I knew the fastball was coming. I was able to get a pretty good swing on it."
Ian Baker followed with a single, and Evan Snapp was then hit by a pitch to load the bases. With one out, Pritchett was able to hit a grounder, the Dragons tried to force out Ryan Smoot at home but the throw was off the mark and bounced away, scoring two runs for a 6-4 lead.
"[Assistant] Coach [Joel] Morgan just told me to swing the bat, so I swung the bat and it worked out," Pritchett said.
One out later, Noah St. Clair's double extended the lead to 8-4 and give the Rams some breathing room.
The game was another example of Strasburg's ability to respond to adversity. Jeff Smoot said the team has handled adversity well all season.
"Everytime they've been in a situation where they've needed to respond -- they have," Jeff Smoot said. "That's a real credit to our kids. If you want to be really good that's something that youve got to have. Not every team has that."
Strasburg starter Mark Smoot got off to a rocky start. Frankie Celentano was hit by a pitch to start the game. Pinson followed with a single. Two outs later, Kyle Trapp's two-run single gave the Dragons a 2-0 lead.
Nathan Berry singled, and then a two-base error on a ground ball hit by Henry Haas scored another run for a 3-0 edge.
The Rams (22-1) came right back with three runs in the top of the second. Snapp led off the inning with a double off of Celentano. Tyler Doman's RBI single cut the lead to 3-1.
Pritchett followed with a single, and then Mark Smoot reached on a single and an error to tie the game at 3-3.
The Dragons (11-13) took the lead back in the bottom of the second. Ben McGuigan led off with a single, and Celentano followed with a double. With one out, the Rams intentionally walked Forrest Smith to load the bases.
It appeared Mark Smoot might get out of the jam when he struck out Zach Allen. However, Mark Smoot was called for a balk during Trapp's at-bat to score McGuigan for a 4-3 lead.
The Rams tied the game in the top of the fifth inning. Ryan Smoot reached on a two-base error. One out later, Snapp's RBI single tied the game at 4-4.
Mark Smoot went 4.1 innings, striking out five and getting out of several jams, including twice with the bases loaded.
"Mark certainly did not have his normal stuff," Jeff Smoot said. "But what he did do was he battled his tail off 4-plus innings and he kept us in the game."
The Dragons threatened in the bottom of the sixth.
Smith and Zach Allen started the sixth off with back-to-back singles off Strasburg reliever Ryan Smoot. Trapp struck out, but the runners moved to second and third on a wild pitch. The Rams then pulled off an unusual double play. Berry's ground ball was fielded by Strasburg shortstop Ryan Murphy who held the runner at third and threw to first baseman Mark Smoot. Allen started to third, while Smith didn't move, so Mark Smoot alertly threw to second for the inning-ended double play.
Ryan Smoot picked up his second win of the season, and of the week, going 2.2 innings, allowing only two hits.
"Obviously, Ryan came in and gave us an outstanding effort really for the second time this week," Jeff Smoot said. "He was super out there."
The Rams will make their first state semifinal berth since 2007, when they won the Group A state title. It's their first state appearance since 2010. Strasburg will play at Madison County on Friday in the Region 2A East final at 7 p.m. Both teams have already advanced to the Group 2A state semifinals next weekend in Salem and Radford. The Rams have now won 20 consecutive games.
"We're one of four teams left in the state now. We're just happy we get to play for another week now," Ryan Smoot said. "Obviously, we're really excited. We just want to try and win the regional championship now."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org