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Posted May 14, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Van Sickler carries Hornets in first round of D3 tourney

By Jeremy Stafford -- jstafford@nvdaily.com

SALISBURY, Md. -- The stands in Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, speckled with the few fans who could make the trip from Baltimore, Md., and Winchester for the NCAA Division 3 Baseball Championships South Regional game between Johns Hopkins and Shenandoah, were silent as Blue Jays leadoff hitter James Teta rounded the bases with relative ease in the first inning.

And the Hornets, in their first-ever tournament appearance, looked rattled and anxious.

"To say we were a little nervous would be an understatement," senior Scott Lambert said. "Everyone, you could tell, had a little butterflies, had a little nervousness. But we started getting going, we got the jitters away and we settled down a little bit and did what we were used to doing all year."

Those jitters were surely gone when Cory Nelson scored from second base in the second inning on a shallow single from John Holcomb, which is when the Hornets' fans made their presence known, erupting into a thunderous roar and conjuring the excitement of past games at Bridgeforth Field.

Shenandoah went on to beat Johns Hopkins 8-2.

"Granted the atmosphere's a little different, you have 15 people at Bridgeforth, and then here it's great," pitcher Greg Van Sickler said. "Once one person starts it, it's like the domino effect, we just keep going and we feed off of that.

"We don't have a lot of fans here but we had a great turnout today, and just feeding off that energy, once you get it going, you get it going."

It seemed to take the Blue Jays only a few pitches before they figured out Van Sickler on the mound, working the Hornets' ace for 25 pitches in the first inning and tipping away anything within the strike zone.

"I woke up this morning nervous, came to the ballpark nervous, got on the field nervous and pitched the first four innings kinda nervous," Van Sickler said. "It was just nerves, nerves, nerves and then I finally got it going."

After he finally settled into a groove, Van Sickler was able to use his entire three-pitch repertoire to force the Blue Jays to put the ball in play and bait them to hit into three double plays.

Van Sickler did plenty of damage from the plate, too, knocking Johns Hopkins for three hits, including a double that wormburned its way along the third-base line into deep left field.

And the crowd never relented, screaming after every strike thrown from Van Sickler and every double play turned by the Shenandoah infield. Even when Johns Hopkins second baseman Dan Merzel scored in the fifth inning, the Shenandoah faithful never relented.

"You could just feel the momentum shift," Lambert said. "After we got going, they got behind us, and you can't ask for anything better than that; it was just awesome."

Shenandoah ran with that momentum for the next eight innings, ripping 14 hits off Johns Hopkins and producing the offense they were so accustomed to seeing in Winchester.

And the excitable screams and divulgences issuing from the Johns Hopkins bench in the closing innings of the game paled in comparison to Van Sickler's silent trot off the field when he was replaced by Matthew Davis in the eighth inning.

Davis did all that was asked of him, striking out all three batters he faced in the eighth inning and ending the ninth inning with little more effort.

Shenandoah will return to Arthur W. Perdue stadium tonight to play York, which defeated USA South Champion N.C. Wesleyan, 12-1, on Wednesday afternoon.

And although the Hornets' win may be the most important victory in Shenandoah baseball history, Hornets coach Kevin Anderson isn't satisfied just yet.

"You're talking about some of the best teams in the United States," Anderson said. "This is a big boost for our program, but it's just a step.

"We're here to win this tournament."

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