Generals roll through Eastside to reach program’s first state championship
PULASKI – The 2017 high school baseball season has brought with it a few milestones for Stonewall Jackson.
It has included the Generals’ first regional tournament appearance since 1995, and the program’s first-ever Virginia High School League state tournament game. It will now feature Stonewall’s first trip to the state championship.
The Generals, taking on Eastside in the VHSL Group 1A state tournament semifinals at Calfee Park on Friday morning, battered the Spartans to the tune of 13 hits while senior right-hander Cole Holsinger tossed a gem in his final high school start, and Stonewall rolled to an 11-3 win.
The victory sends Stonewall into a meeting with Auburn at 10 a.m. Friday in the 1A state championship game at Radford University.
“I can’t believe it. That’s really what’s going through my head,” said Holsinger, who gave up just two hits in the win. “I mean I really can’t – to accomplish what we’ve accomplished this year is just insane. And now that we’re going to the state championship game, it’s just insane. Mind blowing.”
Stonewall (14-11), which began the playoffs last month with a sub-.500 record before getting hot, scored double-digit runs for the third time this postseason and chased Eastside starter Austin Smallwood from the mound after four innings.
Four of the Generals’ 13 hits were doubles, and the Spartans (19-7) complicated matters by committing five errors that contributed to six unearned runs. Every Stonewall starter had at least one hit, with Nick Dotson, Tyler Somers, Wyatt Estep and David Moomaw pacing the Generals with two hits apiece.
“I think we had a good approach at the plate today, very tough at-bats,” Stonewall head coach Mike Lenox said. “Every at-bat was 2-2, fouling pitches off, 3-2. After a while that wears on the pitcher and I told them I think that’s why we kind of got to him there and scratched a few (runs across) there. Then we just opened up with the bats and started spraying all over the field. Mix in a couple errors there and it takes care of itself.”
The runs came early for the Generals, who struck for three runs in the top of the second inning on a pair of two-out RBI hits.
Sophomore right fielder Logan Ritchie, Stonewall’s No. 9 hitter, gave the Generals a 1-0 lead when he lined an RBI double to center. Dotson followed one pitch later when he yanked a two-run double down the third-base line to push the lead to three runs.
Eastside, which had won 13 straight games entering Friday’s semifinal matchup, evened things up with a trio of runs during a shaky third inning from Holsinger, but Stonewall came right back with six more runs in the fourth as the Generals sent 11 batters to the plate.
“We did a great job jumping on them first. I was really glad we did that as a team. Everybody had good at-bats up and down,” said Dotson, who had a double, a single, two RBIs and scored twice from the leadoff spot.
“Then they scored three and was a little worried. … But we just kept saying in the dugout it’s zero-zero, new ballgame. That’s the approach we took to the plate. We weren’t done no matter what we accomplished. … We wanted to score as many runs and as many hits as we could. As a team you could tell, I mean we were just locked in from the beginning.”
Estep and Moomaw began the decisive fourth inning with back-to-back singles, and a throwing error on Ritchie’s sacrifice bunt sent the go-ahead run across the plate.
Dylan Vann drove in a run with the bases loaded on a single that kicked off the second-base bag and trickled into shallow left, and Somers made it 7-3 Stonewall with a two-run single to center before Smallwood finally got the first out of the inning.
Two more Stonewall runs scored on Brett Jones’ RBI single – which was compounded by an error that allowed a second run to score – before the inning finally came to an end with the Generals leading 9-3.
An error and Holsinger’s two-out RBI double off Eastside reliever Austin Rittenberry in the fifth gave the Generals an 11-3 lead.
Smallwood surrendered nine runs (five earned) on nine hits, three walks and five strikeouts in his four innings on the mound, while Rittenberry allowed two unearned runs on four hits, a walk, a hit-by-pitch and a strikeout in three frames. Stonewall put at least one runner on base in each inning.
“They’re playing the way they should’ve been playing all year, but it’s a long season and teams go up and down and right now we’re just firing and executing,” Lenox said. “I think they’re more focused every pitch and we’re executing and seeing what they can do. I can’t be more proud. I’m just letting it ride. I do a little coaching here and there but it’s just playing now.”
Holsinger, who surrendered three earned runs on two hits, two walks and four strikeouts, was sharp in his final high school appearance outside of an uncharacteristically wild third inning.
The right-hander, who had walked just four batters all season entering Friday, opened the bottom of the third with consecutive four-pitch walks before giving up a run on Adam Ketron’s RBI fielder’s choice and the game-tying two-run single from Cole Harness, who had both of the Spartans singles.
“Those were his first two walks I’ve seen since March,” Lenox said of Holsinger, who is now 7-3.
“I don’t think Cole had his best stuff today but that’s just kind of like what I’ve been talking about all year, he just battles. He just wants the ball, to get out there and get after it and that’s what he did today. And we’re one win away from a state championship.”
Auburn, a 5-1 winner over Windsor in the Friday’s other semifinal game, is 23-2 this season, with one of those losses coming to Eastside in last week’s Region 1A West championship game.