Holsinger fires shutout, Generals topple Gladiators in conference semis

Cole Holsinger

STAUNTON – Riverheads High School’s baseball team put up 11 runs against Stonewall Jackson in each of the teams’ two regular season meetings this spring. Stonewall senior Cole Holsinger silenced the Gladiators when it mattered on Thursday afternoon.

The Generals’ ace, making his first start against Riverheads this season in the Conference 44 tournament semifinals, tossed a complete-game shutout while scattering four hits and striking out 10, and No. 4 Stonewall scored a pair of runs in a bizarre sixth-inning to upset the top-seeded Gladiators on the road, 2-0.

The win awards Stonewall a spot in next week’s Region 1A East tournament, a feat that head coach Mike Lenox estimated hasn’t happened since the early 1990s.

“Cole pitched a heckuva game,” Generals senior first baseman Brett Jones said. “I can’t say enough about what he did out there. We knew coming in that we wanted Cole in this position. He’s our ace. We trusted him, we played good defense behind him and we gave him just enough run support to get the win.

“We knew that we were capable of beating them, we just had to play good baseball,” Jones added of the Gladiators, who beat Stonewall by scores of 11-3 and 11-1 during the regular season. “Riverheads is a great program. … I think this is the first win we’ve had down here. We believed in ourselves. No one believed in us. We just knew that we had to come out, play baseball like we know how and we would have a chance to be in the game.”

Holsinger ensured Stonewall (11-10) would keep pace with Riverheads (13-8) on a blustery Thursday afternoon, as he matched zeroes with Gladiator starting pitcher Andrew Golladay until the Generals finally found an opening against the Riverheads junior in the sixth inning.

Holsinger stranded a Gladiator baserunner in scoring position in four different innings – Riverheads leadoff man Braeson Fulton was left at third twice in the first three frames – and struck out the final five batters he faced and seven of the last nine. He didn’t walk a batter.

“Fastball was working really well,” Holsinger said. “Anything kind of up, they were swinging and missing, so that was nice. And then the slider I’d bring in, like the last inning when I had two strikes I’d throw the slider and I got all K’s.

Stonewall suffered through its own struggles at the plate against Golladay through the first half of the game, as the right-hander scattered four hits over the first five innings and needed only 39 pitches to get through that span. Things changed for the Generals in the top of the sixth.

Nick Dotson led off the sixth with a single, followed an out later by Tyler Somers’ single that ended with Somers at second after a throw to the plate. An intentional walk to Holsinger loaded the bases for the Generals with one out.

The Gladiators nearly got out of the jam when Matt Dove lunged at a pitch low and away and hit a weak grounder back to Golladay, but a poor throw to first in an effort to complete a 1-2-3 double play kept the inning alive.

Golladay was called for a balk on the next pitch to Jones, allowing Somers to score the game’s first run.

“We’ve been on that side many, many times down here,” Lenox said of the balk, which was the source of brief confusion between the home plate and second base umpires before the call was clarified. “It’s a tough way to lose some of those games but I think that we did put the ball in play and I thought we played better than they did tonight.”

Stonewall got another fortunate call on Jones’ grounder into the hole at short with two outs. Jones was initially called out at first, marking the end to the inning, but Lenox won an appeal to the home plate umpire and the call was reversed as the umpires concluded the throw pulled Riverheads first baseman Chase Armstrong off the bag. Holsinger scored the Generals’ second run on the play.

“I knew he came off the bag and I knew if the umpires got together they would call me safe, because I was safe,” Jones said. “In that at-bat I was trying to get a pitch that I could put on the ground to score a run. At that point we didn’t need anything big. We were able to get the run in … and we gave Cole enough of a cushion that he could pitch us through.”

Holsinger worked around Grant Painter’s one-out single in the bottom of the sixth by striking out back-to-back batters, then struck out the side in the seventh to seal the win.

“The energy tonight was huge,” Holsinger said. “That’s how our past couple games have been, all energy, and that’s what’s really pushing us to keep thriving, to be better and keep winning. And we are.”

Dotson and Wyatt Estep each had two hits for the Generals, who finished the game with six hits, all off Golladay.

Golladay took the loss after going 5 2/3 innings while allowing two runs (one earned) and walking two. Austin Craft pitched 1 1/3 hitless innings for Riverheads. Neither pitcher recorded a strikeout against the Generals.

“I told them, this is probably one of the top five teams in the state in single-A baseball. It’s just monumental,” Lenox said of the win. “But I just told them let’s go have fun and play, see what happens. I told them at the very beginning, with the wind blowing and the weather, funny things can happen. That’s kind of how we won today.”

Lenox said it’s likely the Conference 44 championship gets scratched from this weekend’s schedule with the start of regional play set to begin Monday. Altavista and Luray still have to play the other conference semifinal on Friday, and Lenox said the outcome of a potential conference title game would have no bearing on seeding for the regional field, which is based off a points system.