Strasburg advances with win

KING WILLIAM – While on the road to Friday’s Region 2A East baseball tournament semifinal game at King William, Strasburg’s bus broke down, extending an already lengthy trip across the state for the Rams. But when Strasburg finally did hit the field an hour behind schedule, it didn’t take long for the offense to heat up.

The Rams scored three runs in the top of the first inning, offering plenty of run support for senior pitcher Garrett Richards, who tossed a complete game shutout to help send Strasburg to a 4-0 victory over the Cavaliers.

Strasburg’s win Friday sets up a home meeting with Maggie Walker in the regional championships game Saturday night at 7 p.m. — a rematch of last season’s regional semifinal game — and qualifies the Rams for the Group 2A state tournament in Radford for the second straight season.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s amazing,” said Richards, who had his last start cut short as he battled an illness that caused swelling in the lymph nodes on the right side of his neck. “We have a great group of guys. We make plays. We executed tonight, and we’re back. We’re back in [Radford].”

Strasburg (24-1) wasted no time giving Richards run support against Cavaliers starting pitcher R.C. Sutton, as Noah St. Clair and Ryan Smoot led off the frame with back-to-back singles and later scored two of the three Rams runs in the inning.

“It took us a while to get here, but once we got here we were focused and ready to play,” Smoot said. “Obviously that’s not your ideal trip, five hours, but I think we came out ready and you have to give Noah a lot of credit starting the game out like that. That was huge.”

With two runners in scoring position following a wild pitch in the top of the first inning, sophomore Josh Pritchett drove in the Rams’ first run with an RBI groundout. Smoot scored during the next at-bat as King William committed a pair of errors on a grounder by Nate Butler, the second of which occurred on an errant throw to the plate that allowed Smoot to slide in just ahead of the tag.

Mark Smoot drove in the third run with an RBI groundout.

“We were very good at the plate in the first inning,” Rams head coach Jeff Smoot said, “I think particularly for the circumstances that we endured and the routine being broken a little bit. We had a good approach, patient, just very good. … At that point, given the way that Garrett was throwing, I did think that may be enough because it was pretty obvious from the very beginning that he was pretty good.”

Richards allowed only three hits over his seven innings of work – two coming on leadoff hits by Sutton in the second and fourth innings – and worked out of trouble on several different occasions.

King William (16-8) put the leadoff man on in the second, third and fourth innings and failed to come away with any runs, and ended up stranding six total baserunners against the Rams’ left-hander.

Richards finished with 10 strikeouts, including back-to-back punch-outs to end the game, while walking two and hitting a batter.

“The fastball was working well,” Richards said. “I could locate my fastball well. The curveball was all right. The changeup was all right. I didn’t execute as well 0-2 as I would like to but it still worked out in the end.”

Strasburg added another run in the top of the fourth inning, as Adam Miller – who reached on a fielder’s choice following a leadoff single by Mark Smoot – scored from second on a King William error on Richards’ slow grounder to short.

The Rams later loaded the bases with two outs, but the inning ended when Ryan Smoot scorched a line drive that was caught by Cavaliers third baseman Ryan Huffman.

Sutton settled in on the mound after that for King William, as he retired the final 10 batters he faced. The right-hander allowed four hits, two walks and hit a batter while striking out six in seven innings pitched. Only one of his four runs allowed was earned.

“I think a lot of that was us. We lost our focus a little bit, which can’t happen. It will come back to haunt us next week,” Ryan Smoot said of Strasburg’s offensive struggles against Sutton over the final three innings. “But I mean, yeah he got a little better. We hit some balls hard right at people, I think, all night. … Late in the game he got a little better but our at-bats, our mentality at the plate was not good enough.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com