Generals fall to Auburn in state championship game

Stonewall Jackson first baseman Brett Jones races Auburn's Aaric Huff to the bag during the second inning of the VHSL Group 1A baseball state tournament championship game on Saturday at Radford University. Huff was ruled safe on the play. Brad Fauber/Daily

RADFORD – The magical postseason run for Stonewall Jackson High School’s baseball team ended on Saturday morning one win away from the program’s first state championship.

The Generals, who blasted their way through the Virginia High School League Group 1A state semifinals on Friday, were quieted by Auburn starting pitcher Dylan Akers in Saturday’s state championship game at Radford University, and the Eagles cruised to a 6-0 victory.

It was the first state title for Auburn, and both teams were making their first state championship appearances in their programs’ histories.

“It’s been a helluva ride,” Generals senior first baseman Brett Jones said shortly after Saturday’s loss. “I can’t say enough about this year’s team. We’re a team of best friends and we just love playing baseball, and we got to come out here and do what we love to do with each other. And no team in Stonewall history has ever come this far, so to do this with my best friends, it means everything to me.”

Stonewall (14-12), which broke out for 11 runs on 13 hits against Eastside on Friday to earn a spot in Saturday’s championship game, mustered little offense against Akers.

Stonewall Jackson's Cole Holsinger carries the "Sportsmanship Award," given to the state runner-up, as teammate Nick Dotson looks on following the Generals' 6-0 loss to Auburn in the VHSL Group 1A baseball state championship game. Brad Fauber/Daily

Auburn’s junior right-hander limited the Generals to just two hits over his seven innings of work, and he struck out two and hit a batter during the complete-game effort.

Stonewall head coach Mike Lenox said he felt the Generals hit the ball “pretty hard” and credited the Eagles’ defense – which played error-free baseball – for making plays behind its starting pitcher. Auburn (24-2) doubled up a runner on lineouts after each of Stonewall’s two hits.

“I just think we had a lot of time to think today. I think pitching was a little different today, was a little softer, and I think we struggled adjusting to that,” Lenox said, comparing Akers with Eastside ace Austin Smallwood, who pitched against Stonewall on Friday. “I think (Akers) mixed it up pretty well. I mean he threw a curveball a lot. But they made the plays when they needed to.”

Stonewall, which left just one runner on base – after senior Dylan Vann’s hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the first inning – got an infield single on catcher David Moomaw’s chopper to third to lead off the third inning and Vann’s double to left-center to open the fourth.

Akers erased Vann when he snagged a hard-hit line drive off the bat of Tyler Somers and retired the final 11 batters he faced to close out the victory. He threw just 70 pitches.

Stonewall Jackson's Tyler Somers, left, stands in the on-deck circle as some of his teammates look on from the dugout during the VHSL Group 1A baseball state championship game against Auburn. Brad Fauber/Daily

“We were just impatient at the plate,” said Vann, one of only two Generals to reach base safely in the loss. “We weren’t looking for a ball that we wanted. We were just looking for whatever was close and we were swinging at it. He was throwing slower than normal and we were just having trouble squaring it up.”

Auburn’s offense provided Akers with early run support, as the Eagles struck for three runs off Stonewall starting pitcher Nick Dotson during the first two innings.

Cole Epperly gave Auburn a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning with a two-out RBI hit, and a wild pitch and Adam Quesenberry’s two-out RBI single in the second inning gave the Eagles a 3-0 lead.

“It really, from the beginning, first inning, it really just wasn’t going our way,” Generals senior shortstop Cole Holsinger said. “It wasn’t our day. You have those days in baseball. Unfortunately it was a big game for us that it happened. You can’t do anything about it. Just tip your hat to them.”

Dotson, a junior right-hander, was pulled after just two innings pitched and was tagged for three earned runs on four hits, two walks and a strikeout. Somers pitched the final five innings for the Generals and surrendered three more earned runs on six hits, a walk and three strikeouts.

Stonewall Jackson's Tyler Somers throws a pitch during the third inning of the VHSL Group 1A baseball state championship game against Auburn. Brad Fauber/Daily

“Not (Dotson’s) best stuff,” Lenox said. “A hit here, a hit there and there it goes. But that’s baseball, and he’s been great all postseason. Somers came in and did a heckuva job too. But you’re not gonna win many games with two hits.”

Quesenberry, who went 3-for-4 with three singles and three RBIs, stretched Auburn’s lead to 5-0 in the fourth inning with a two-run single to left, and Hunter Perkins delivered an emphatic end to the Eagles’ 10-hit attack with a solo home run to left to lead off the seventh.

Saturday’s loss marked the end to a ride that saw Stonewall stretch its season into the 2017 campaign’s final day. The Generals, who made their first regional tournament appearance since 1995 earlier this postseason, entered the playoffs with a losing record yet managed to be one of the final two teams standing at the 1A level.

“It probably meant more to me than it meant to them,” said Lenox, who wrapped up his sixth season with the Generals and shared an emotional speech with his team in left field following the loss. “When you see the community come together like this and you see parents and you see this camaraderie that you have with the school and just everything, it’s amazing to see that. It just takes little things like this to get programs going and get schools going. I just can’t be more proud to be a part of that.”

Stonewall Jackson catcher David Moomaw has a brief meeting with starting pitcher Nick Dotson during the second inning of the VHSL Group 1A baseball state championship game against Auburn. Brad Fauber/Daily

Stonewall Jackson catcher David Moomaw tracks down a pop up during the third inning of the VHSL Group 1A baseball state championship game against Auburn. Brad Fauber/Daily

Stonewall Jackson's Cody Cline (21), Cole Holsinger (3), Brendan Hoover (2), Logan Ritchie (10) and Matthew Showman (22) chat with a group of fans prior to the Generals' VHSL Group 1A baseball state championship game. Brad Fauber/Daily