Rams hang on to beat Hornets

Strasburg third baseman Joshua Pritchett runs down Wilson Memorial's Dan Poole as he tripped while on his way to a triple during fifth-inning action of the Region 2A East quarterfinals Wednesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg didn’t expect to generate much offense against Wilson Memorial senior pitcher Brandon Gochenour in the quarterfinal round of the Region 2A East baseball tournament Wednesday night at First Bank Park – and it didn’t. But in the words of longtime Rams head coach Jeff Smoot, Strasburg’s offense was able to hang in against the Hornets’ right-hander.

Powered by a series of fortunate events in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Rams broke a late tie with a pair of runs off Gochenour in the frame, then held off the upset-minded Green Hornets in the seventh for a 3-2 win.

The victory sends Strasburg (23-1) to the semifinal round at King William at 5 p.m. Thursday.

“Offensively we just hung in there. … And there’s something to be said for that,” Smoot said. “We were not particularly good, especially in the bottom of our order, but we just kind of kept hanging in there. And obviously [Rams starter] Mark [Smoot] was pitching well and that gave us an opportunity to keep hanging in there.”

After Wilson Memorial (13-11) knotted the score at 1-1 with a run in the top of the fifth inning on Dan Poole’s RBI double against Mark Smoot – who tossed a complete game to earn his 11th victory of the season – Strasburg got some help in the bottom of the sixth.

Strasburg catcher Ryan Smoot prepares to embrace his brother, Mark, after the final out of Wednesday's Region 2A East quarterfinal game against Wilson Memorial in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Rams sophomore Josh Pritchett reached safely to start the inning on a Wilson throwing error following a dropped third strike, and Nate Butler singled to right-center on a ball that fell in front of Hornets right fielder Ryan Wakefield as he appeared to get a bad read on the soft line drive. A walk to Mark Smoot loaded the bases with no outs for the Rams, and Jeff Smoot turned to junior Brian Scholten to pinch-hit after Gochenour got Adam Miller (1-for-3, double) to strike out for the inning’s first out.

Scholten delivered the go-ahead RBI when he bunted the first pitch he saw from Gochenour back toward the mound for a single. Gochenour, charging hard from the mound, slipped on the wet grass as the ball skipped past him to his right, allowing Pritchett to cross home plate safely for a 2-1 Strasburg lead.

“Bases were loaded and I thought [Jeff Smoot] was going to give me the go ahead to hit the ball,” Scholten said. “But I was pretty good with bunts in BP so I think that’s why he had me bunt. There was only one out, bases loaded, so just go for it, I guess.

“That’s actually not really a good bunt because it was too close to the pitcher but I hit it hard enough that it got by him.”

Freshman Austin Miller worked a bases-loaded walk to plate another important insurance run for Strasburg before Gochenour and the Hornets escaped further damage.

Wilson Memorial's Wayne Pettry manages to outrun the throw of Strasburg third baseman Joshua Pritchett on an infield grounder during the fourth inning of their Region 2A East quarterfinal game Wednesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Wilson Memorial coach Rodney Cullen said the Hornets’ error on Pritchett’s strikeout to start the inning put his team “behind the 8-ball from the beginning” in the bottom of the sixth.

“You’ve got to give them credit, they did a great job,” Cullen said. “The bunt really, I mean, it was probably a double-play ball if [Gochenour] hadn’t slipped, or at least we’d definitely get the guy there [at home]. But that’s just part of it on any field. Their guy got it down. Give him credit. That just happens.”

The Hornets answered in the top of the seventh as Wayne Pettry lead off with a triple to the fence in right-center and scored on an RBI groundout by Ben Corbin, but Mark Smoot induced a pair of fly outs to end the game.

Mark Smoot – who gave Strasburg a 1-0 lead in the first inning with his looping RBI single to left – allowed two earned runs on seven hits and no walks while striking out six, using his changeup to his advantage against the Hornets.

“Coming in, the scouting report was they like fastballs,” Mark Smoot said. “It doesn’t matter what the count is, they’re just trying to hit a fastball and hit it hard. And I’m a really good pitcher to face them. I like to live off my off-speed stuff. And I knew, pregame I had to make sure my off-speed stuff was good.”

Strasburg second baseman Cory Clinedinst looks for a double play as he steps on the bag to force out Wilson Memorial's Brandon Gochenour during fourth-inning action Wednesday night in Strasburg. Clinedinst could not turn the double play during the Region 2A East quarterfinal game. Rich Cooley/Daily

Gochenour, who entered Wednesday’s game with a 0.73 earned run average, allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits, three walks and two hit batters. The senior right-hander, who missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, also struck out nine.

“He throws hard,” Mark Smoot said. “Coming in the game we were hunting his fastball. He lives off his fastball, trying to get it down. We probably struck out way too much against him. He didn’t throw his breaking ball for a strike that often, so he was probably a one-pitch pitcher for the most part tonight. We struck out way too much.”

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

Strasburg's Noah St. Clair gets tagged out by Wilson Memorial's John Leavell, III on a third base steal attempt during fifth-inning action of the Region 2A East quarterfinal game Wednesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily