Generals travel to Windsor for shot at regional baseball title

Mike Lenox

Stonewall Jackson High School’s baseball team has already clinched its first-ever state tournament appearance. Now the Generals can chase the program’s first regional championship knowing their season will extend  one more week.

Stonewall, fresh off a 13-0 pounding of Lancaster on Wednesday evening in the Region 1A East tournament semifinals, will hit the road again on Friday for a 4:30 p.m. contest at top-seeded Windsor for the regional crown.

The Generals, who were seeded seventh out of eight teams in the regional field, figure to be the underdogs Friday against the 2016 Virginia High School League Group 1A state runner-up, but they’ve been the lower seed in each of their past three playoff victories.

“Right now I really don’t even think the guys are worried about who we’re playing. I think they’re just enjoying being there,” Stonewall head coach Mike Lenox said on Thursday afternoon. “They’re gonna play their game regardless of who they put on the mound or who walks out on the field. That’s kind of the mentality that they’ve had since William Campbell (in the Conference 44 quarterfinals).

“They’re to the point where they have nothing to lose anymore. They’ve already proven themselves enough. I told them last night just go have some fun. They’re having a great time. The whole atmosphere, all these car trips, going far away to places they’ve never been, those are the types of things these kids will remember for a lifetime and I told them just to enjoy every minute, soak up every moment they have with their friends.”

Stonewall (13-10) enters the regional championship having won five straight but will need to halt Windsor’s 16-game winning streak if it hopes to extend that run to six heading into next week’s state tournament.

The Dukes, coached by Skyline High School and Shenandoah University graduate Eli McEathron, who is in his second season at Windsor, reached their second straight state final four by beating Essex and Altavista 2-1 and 6-1, respectively, in the first two rounds of the regional tournament.

Windsor, which is 19-3 overall this season and hasn’t lost a game since April 3, has allowed one run or fewer in eight of its last nine ballgames. The Dukes have posted four shutouts and outscored opponents 99-10 during that span.

“They’ve won a lot of games, but so did Central-Lunenburg,” said Lenox, referring to the team Stonewall beat 4-3 in the regional quarterfinals on Monday. “You never really know what the teams are about down there just going by their records.

“I know they have a really good arm but he’s already thrown,” he added of Windsor.

Lenox added that with a spot in the state tournament already locked up, the Generals will use Friday’s game as a “tune up” to see how they stack up against one of the best 1A teams in the state and to answer questions – primarily from a pitching standpoint – ahead of the state semifinals on June 9.

Junior right-hander Tyler Somers, who has been used sparingly as Stonewall’s No. 3 pitcher, will start on the mound against Windsor, Lenox said.

“We’re gonna use (the game) to gauge them as well, you know, maybe find out some stuff, some weaknesses about them and they’ll probably do the same with us,” Lenox said. “There’s a possibility we’ll see them again.”

During Stonewall Jackson’s five-game winning streak, the Generals have outscored opponents 38-7. Though Lenox said he’d like to see his team execute better at the plate with runners on and in two-out situations, he added that the Generals are playing “the best baseball that’s been played here in a long, long time.”

Friday’s trip to Windsor, a 200-mile trek one way to the southeast corner of the state, will be the third time the Generals have had to travel over 300 miles round-trip for a game this week.

“I think they’re just having fun and all the time we’re spending together on the road, it’s really bringing them closer as a group and I think that really has been key down the stretch here,” Lenox said. “We’re riding in a car eight hours a day together, and I think that aspect of it is finally making them a team, not just making them acquaintances. I think they’re just riding it and playing hard.”

The VHSL Group 1A state baseball tournament begins on June 9, with semifinal games scheduled for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Calfee Park in Pulaski. Stonewall will play either Eastside or Auburn out of Region 1A West depending on the outcome of Friday’s game.

The 1A state championship game will take place at 10 a.m. June 10 at Radford University.