Simonelli pitches Pioneers past Warriors

STEPHENS CITY – With the Conference 21 West tournament’s top seed and an automatic regional berth on the line, everyone knew Anthony Simonelli was taking the mound for Millbrook heading into Wednesday’s baseball game against Sherando. Simonelli knew it. His head coach, Brian Burke, knew it. And Sherando head coach Pepper Martin knew it.

The Millbrook ace looked every bit the part against the Warriors, as he held Sherando to one hit over six shutout innings while getting plenty of run support from a seven-run sixth inning as the Pioneers rolled to an 8-0 win.

Simonelli, a junior, has yet to give up an earned run this season.

“We knew that they were gonna start Simo against us,” said Martin, whose team will be the third seed in the conference tournament and host Handley at 7 p.m. Friday. “We know what a quality pitcher he is. We knew coming into the game that runs were gonna be at a premium. If we got runners on we had to try to execute and move them up and maybe be able to get a hit to score them.”

Those chances were very limited for the Warriors (13-7) on a chilly Wednesday night. Simonelli was perfect through 4 2/3 innings before he plunked Sherando senior and opposing pitcher Tyler Tinsman with a 2-2 breaking ball. The Warriors’ second runner reached on an error with one out in the sixth, which was followed by Sherando’s only hit off the Millbrook (15-2) right-hander, a line-drive double into the left-center field gap by sophomore Frank Ritter III.

“Anthony, from the time he was a freshman, put him in big-time situations, big games, and the kid just continues to excel,” Burke said. “Very, very proud of the effort tonight.”

Simonelli finished with nine strikeouts, using a full arsenal of pitches to keep Sherando hitters off-balance.

“I had all my pitches going,” Simonelli said. “My fastball was up there tonight. Curveball was working really well and my changeup worked when it needed to be thrown. Got a couple key outs with my changeup tonight, so it was a really good outing.”

Tinsman wasn’t as effective at keeping runners off base as his counterpart, but the Sherando senior matched zeroes with Simonelli through the first four innings. Millbrook put the leadoff man on in three of the first four innings but stranded four during that span.

The Pioneers finally broke through with a two-out rally in the top of the fifth inning. Tinsman dealt a two-out walk to leadoff man Alex Amos, who then stole second and scored on Trent Burgreen’s single to left-center for a 1-0 Pioneers lead.

“After that I knew we were in the driver’s seat and I just had to throw strikes and get the game over with as soon as possible,” Simonelli said.

Tinsman was backed by solid defense early – a diving backhanded stop by Ritter at short likely saved a run in the first inning, and Brett Bodenschatz made a tumbling grab on a sinking liner to open the fifth – but the Warriors got sloppy in the field in the sixth inning.

Tinsman dealt a leadoff walk that preceded the first of two Sherando errors in the inning. Another walk loaded the bases with one out, and a poor throw to the plate on a routine grounder pulled Warriors catcher Hunter Entsminger off the plate, allowing a run to score.

Zach Rogers plated another Millbrook run on an infield single to end Tinsman’s day on the mound, Amos was hit by an Entsminger pitch with the bases loaded and a 2-run bloop single down the right-field line by Burgreen gave Millbrook a 6-0 lead. Gavin West pushed that lead to 8-0 when he won an eight-pitch at-bat by lining a 2-run single into right.

“We’ve been preaching it all year long, to take a better approach with two strikes, and probably three, five games ago it started clicking with these guys,” Burke said. “… It’s all about approach with two strikes, we’re starting to change our approach and I told them in our postgame conference, that’s what’s gonna work for us.”

Tinsman pitched 5 1/3 innings while allowing five hits and three walks against four strikeouts. He allowed six runs, only one of which was earned.

“While we were having trouble scoring off Anthony, Tyler Tinsman was pitching his heart out,” Martin said. “He pitched an outstanding game.

“What’s most disappointing is the (sixth inning). He’s still pitching well enough to win, keeping us in the ballgame and then the wheels fell off the cart defensively. … If you give a good team extra outs, more often than not you’re gonna pay the price for it.”

The Warriors finished with two hits, as Myles McPartland led off the seventh with a single off Millbrook reliever Trey Braithwaite.

Sherando could’ve claimed the Conference 21 West top seed and an automatic regional berth with a victory over the Pioneers, but instead will need to win at least two games to make a return trip to the Region 4A West tournament.

“The road’s tougher,” Martin said. “It can be done. We can do it. This team’s capable of it. But we have to take one game at a time and we’ve certainly got to get our hitting mojo back.”

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

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