Millbrook eliminates James Wood in Conference 21 West baseball

By ROBERT STOCKS | The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Millbrook senior third baseman Gavin West said the team took a lot of swings in Tuesday afternoon’s practice to prepare for the postseason.

It sure seemed like that extra time spent on hitting paid off for the Pioneers against James Wood in the first round of the Conference 21 West baseball tournament on Thursday.

Fourth-seeded Millbrook had eight different players drive in runs, and senior pitcher Nate Jaye pitched a shutout in a 10-0 victory over the No. 5 Colonels.

With the victory, the Pioneers (14-5) advance to play top-seeded Sherando at 6 p.m. tonight in the conference semifinals in Stephens City.

“We haven’t been hitting good the past five games, but it felt good — I got my swing back,” said West, who went 2 for 3 with two doubles, a run scored and two RBIs. “I haven’t been hitting well the past five games, but I felt really good. The energy was up before the game, and we were really focused and determined to come out and beat them.”

Millbrook, which swept all three matchups with the Colonels (9-12) by a combined 31-0 margin, took the lead in the bottom of the second when Kyle Keenan (2 for 3) drove in Ryan Kennedy with a double to left.

The Pioneers added two more runs in the bottom of the third on back-to-back sacrifice flies by Bailey Collins and Conor Hartigan.

Staked to a 3-0 lead after three innings, Jaye (4-0) retired the Colonels in order in the fourth, and the Pioneers kept adding to their lead from there.

In the bottom of the fourth, West led off with a double into the gap in left-center, and Keenan reached on a bunt single. Chandler Ballenger followed with another bunt and reached safely after an errant throw by Smith to first.

With the bases loaded, pinch-hitter Nick Varcadipane’s single drove in West to put the Pioneers ahead 4-0. Rudolph followed with an RBI single to plate courtesy runner Zach Rogers, and Jaye drove in Ballenger with a sacrifice fly to right to stretch Millbrook’s lead to 6-0.

“We took advantage of our opportunities,” Millbrook coach Brian Burke said. “Nick Varcadipane — we pinch hit there in that [fourth] inning when we busted it open a little bit there, and he comes off the bench in a bases-loaded situation and dumps a ball into right field. That’s a kid that was ready to play tonight and rose to the occasion. That says a lot for our focus on the bench and guys ready to play and contribute.”

An inning later, Wood relief pitcher Trent Campbell hit Conor Hartigan with a pitch to start the inning. Hartigan stole second, and then scored on a single by Ryan Kennedy.

With a 7-0 advantage, Millbrook sent nine batters to the plate in a three-run sixth.

Rudolph (1 for 3 with two runs scored) reached on a fielder’s choice, Jaye walked and Collins singled off Campbell to load the bases.

Hartigan followed with a drive to deep center — that would have been a homer had it been hit to any other part of the field — that Colonels center fielder Ben Russo hauled in on the warning track right in front of the fence.

With the bases loaded, Kennedy (2 for 3 with two RBIs) walked to bring home courtesy runner Haden Madagan. West followed, crushing an offering from Campbell deep to left to score Collins and courtesy runner Chad Fauver to extend Millbrook’s lead to 10-0.

“Through the lineup, I felt like we put some quality at-bats together,” Jaye said. “That was good to see.”

After giving up four hits in the first three innings, Jaye didn’t allow a hit until Colby Monroe and Tanner George had back-to-back singles to start the seventh.

Jaye got Hunter O’Gorman to fly out to right, and then retired Brett Baker on a ground ball to second.

With runners on second and third, Jaye caught Colonels leadoff hitter Tylor McBride looking at a breaking ball for a called third strike to end it.

Jaye said his first complete game of the season couldn’t have come at a better time.

“That was fun, and I was glad that the coaches let me go for [the complete game],” said Jaye, who scattered six hits and struck out seven (with just one walk). “Those couple quick innings helped me out, and when we hit like that as a team, I get more time to rest between innings and just focus.”

James Wood left seven runners on base, including five in scoring position. Four of those stranded runners came in the first three innings.

“Our guys did pretty well at the plate and put the bat on the ball early in the game, but we just didn’t have that timely hit,” said James Wood coach Brent Lockhart. “We didn’t get a chance to jump on them early. Defensive-wise, we just didn’t do well enough [with three errors].

“The better team won the game. They’re definitely a good team. Our guys came out and did what they could do, but we’ll get the guys together and try again next year.”

The Pioneers will start the left-handed Kennedy on the mound in a must-win game against Sherando tonight.

The Warriors, who already earned a regional berth by winning the regular-season conference title, swept the two previous meetings with the Pioneers, beating Millbrook 4-3 in the non-conference matchup on April 11 and 4-2 in the conference matchup on May 2.

“They’ve had our number this year,” Burke said of Sherando. “It’s been two tight games and that’s the typical Sherando-Millbrook game. We’ll go out and give our best effort [tonight] and see how things shake out after seven innings.”

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