Earlier this week, New Market had found late-game magic on back-to-back nights and built a 2-0 lead over Grottoes in their best-of-5 semifinal series. That lead is gone, and the two teams are set to meet in a winner-takes-all Game 5 tonight in New Market with a trip to the Rockingham County Baseball League finals on the line.

The Cardinals, after coughing up leads in the first two games of the series, have rebounded from a two-game deficit, and their 10-1 blasting of the Shockers on Thursday night evened the series at 2-2.

New Market head coach Nolan Potts said after his team rallied for a Game 2 win on Monday that Grottoes would be a hungry team that wouldn’t go quietly. Now Potts and the Shockers need to shrug off back-to-back losses if they hope to get to the RCBL finals, something a New Market team hasn’t done since 1928.

“It’s like I told (the players), I said we’ve got to outplay them for one game,” Potts said on Friday afternoon. “If we can outplay them for one game, then we get a chance to go to play for a championship. That should be enough motivation for them, so I’m hoping they come to the ballpark with a clear mindset, shake the last couple nights off and come out and play their best game of the series, because that’s what it’s gonna take to beat them because they’ve got all the momentum in the world, Grottoes does.”

After what Potts called a frustrating loss on Wednesday, during which New Market stranded 10 runners and couldn’t provide enough run support to back another stellar start from left-hander Darrell Thompson in an 11-inning loss, the Shockers were stymied by Grottoes lefty Austin Nicely in Game 4.

Nicely threw a complete-game two-hitter against New Market on Thursday, during which he struck out 12, walked two and allowed an unearned run. The Spotswood High product, a former minor leaguer who spent the last two years in the independent leagues, also hit a three-run homer during the Cardinals’ five-run eighth inning that blew the game open.

“He’s got a good fastball with a lot of movement and his off-speed is better than what you’re gonna see from most pitchers in this league,” Potts said of Nicely, adding that he spent Thursday’s road trip to Grottoes wondering if New Market would see the Cardinals’ left-hander after Nicely threw five innings in the Shockers’ Game 1 win on Sunday.

“Sure enough, he went out there and I figured he’d go about five innings like he did the other night. No, he just kept trotting back out,” Potts added. “At that point, you tip your cap to him, but I don’t think we were ready to play and when you throw a guy of that caliber out there, that makes it much harder anyway.”

Grottoes, which finished Thursday’s game with nine hits, did most of its damage offensively on a pair of homers. In addition to Nicely’s home run in the eight, Keegan Woolford (Shenandoah University) took college teammate Joel Smith deep for a third-inning grand slam that gave the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.

Woolford finished with five RBIs, his second such game of the series.

Smith, a Winchester native, lasted 4 ⅓ innings in Thursday’s loss and was charged with five earned runs on four hits, three walks and two strikeouts. Michael Prosperi relieved his college teammate in the fifth and threw the final 3 ⅔ innings, allowing five earned runs on five hits, two walks and four strikeouts.

“The pitching wasn’t bad. Joel did a good job and then Keegan hit a grand slam off him. That kind of took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” said Potts, who noted that the Shockers seemed out of rhythm in a game that started an hour late due to rain.

“I don’t think we had any rhythm once we got to the field,” he added. “And we couldn’t do anything with Austin. Pitching wasn’t bad. Joel made one bad pitch to Keegan and he hit it out, and then Prosperi came in and didn’t do a bad job until he got tired in the eighth and that’s when Austin hit a home run off him. The game was actually a lot closer than the score ended up being but you get two hits in a game, you’re not gonna win any games that way.”

Potts noted that both hits, notched by Henry Delavergne and Pearce Bucher, were infield singles.

Today’s first pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Potts noted on Friday afternoon that he was still trying to decide who would start on the mound for the Shockers in the deciding game.

“I’ve told them, I said we haven’t really played well all series and we’ve still got a chance to go to the championship,” Potts said. “We’ve got to come ready to play tomorrow night, make some adjustments and hope for the best.”

– Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com