James Wood wins extra-inning thriller in Region 4C baseball semifinals

WINCHESTER — James Wood baseball coach Adrian Pullen said one simple thing made the difference in Monday’s Region 4C extra-inning semifinal thriller against Heritage at R. Charles Hott Field.

“It just came down to execution at the end,” Pullen said. “We executed and they didn’t. I told my coaching staff from like the fourth inning on that whoever executes is going to finally win this game.”

Kaden Spaid’s walk-off double deep to the fence in dead center field gave James Wood its first regional playoff victory since 1985 with a 3-2 triumph. Nick Bell fired four scoreless innings of relief and got out a huge jam in the top of the eighth that set the table for Spaid’s heroics.

The Colonels (13-3) now travel to Broad Run (13-1) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the regional championship game. The Spartans eliminated Millbrook with a 7-2 triumph Monday.

After Heritage got even with a run in the fourth, the contest stayed deadlocked at 2-2 until the eighth.

The Pride (12-3) had James Wood in big trouble in the eighth inning. Calvin Sweeney led off the frame with a sinking liner that Colonels center fielder Jaden Ashby nearly had on a dive, but the ball ticked off his glove and rolled behind him for a triple. The Colonels then walked Heritage cleanup hitter Grant Barberich intentionally. Barberich promptly swiped second base on Bell’s first pitch to pinch-hitter Peyton Lee.

What was Bell thinking now with two runners in scoring position with no outs?

“The infield was in and I trust my defense behind me,” the sophomore right-hander said. “I knew as long as I kept it in the infield everything was going to be alright.”

And that’s what he did.

Lee launched a towering pop-up that second baseman Bodie Pullen caught near the mound for the first out. Luke Nehring grounded a 3-2 pitch to shortstop Luke Gross, who looked the baserunner at third back and threw out Nehring at first. With the scary part over, Bell didn’t let down and got Tyler Galloway on a grounder to Bodie Pullen to end the inning.

Bell continued his hot streak in the postseason, running his total up to 14.2 scoreless innings of relief in four appearances.

“I’ve coached that kid for three or four years now,” Adrian Pullen said. “I’ve got as much faith in him as I do as anybody on this team. ... He believes in himself. He believes in every pitch. He stays so composed. He doesn’t let the situation get out of hand.”

“I trust everybody,” Bell said of his playoff success. “I can come out and throw whatever I want and I know they are going to make plays behind me. The experience of the regular season and the summer helps a lot, too.”

After pulling off an escape, the Colonels beat the approaching thunderstorm and the Pride in the bottom of the inning.

No. 9 hitter Jacob Roy drew a leadoff walk against reliever Ryan Sloyer. After an out, Roy took off for second and Jayden Nixon looped a single into short left field into the hole vacated by shortstop Ian Tennyson.

“We found a hole,” Adrian Pullen said of Nixon’s blooper. “That’s all that matters.”

That brought up Spaid, the Colonels’ No. 3 hitter who had gone 2 for 11 in his previous postseason at-bats. On a 1-1 pitch from Sloyer, Spaid skied a ball to center field that seemed to ride the freshening breeze of the approaching storm.

Heritage center fielder Nerhing turned his back and kept chasing but he couldn’t catch up to the ball at the fence. After waiting for the ball to fall, Roy raced around and scored, belly-skidding across the plate with the game-winner to the joy of his teammates and the crowd,

 

“I just knew I had to do something with it,” said Spaid of his at-bat. “I had to either put it in the gap or get it on the ground and move the runners. That was my goal to move the runners across, but I just ran into one.

“When I hit it, I thought it was going to be a pop-up to center field,” the senior added. “Then I saw the center fielder running straight back and I knew it was going to drop.”

Adrian Pullen finally got the execution that he knew his team could pull off. “I kept believing that we were going to get that hit,” he said. “… One through nine all year, somebody has always stepped up and we’ve done it. The top did it again tonight.”

Neither team found much luck on offense on a night where they combined for just nine hits.

Heritage broke the ice in the first inning without putting a ball in play. With two outs, Spaid plunked Sweeney. Courtesy runner Sloyer moved to second on a passed ball and to third on a wild pitch. After he walked, Barberich took off for second early and got himself stuck in a rundown and Sloyer came home to score on the same play in which the Colonels scored twice against Sherando in the Northwestern District quarterfinals.

James Wood got on top in the third. Gross led off with a walk against Heritage starter Josh Rivera and was bunted to second by Roy. Gross then swiped third. With the infield in, Bodie Pullen lashed a single to left to score Gross.

“I was just trying to do a job,” Bodie Pullen said. “The infield was in and I was trying to hit a sac fly and thankfully I found a hole.”

Pullen would steal second base and move to third on a wild pitch. He’d score when the Pride booted Spaid’s grounder to second to give the Colonels a 2-1 lead.

The lead didn’t last for long. Nehring singled, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and eventually scored on a wild pitch. The Pride would have runners at first and third with two outs when Tennyson lined what looked to be an RBI single to center. But Bodie Pullen used every inch of his 6-foot-1 frame to leap high and spear the liner to save a run and end the threat.

“Thankfully my coach, he had just moved me up the middle,” Bodie Pullen said. “I was able to make a play on it.”

Spaid allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six in four innings. Bell allowed one hit, walked two and struck out five in four scoreless innings.

Bell said his breaking ball particularly was effective. “I was throwing that a lot and keeping them off-balance,” he said. “When I’m changing speeds, it’s hard timing everything up.”

“He’s been big lately,” Bodie Pullen said of Bell, who is 3-0 with a save in the postseason. “We know he’s going to go out there and throw strikes, pound the zone and get a lot of soft contact. We have a lot of trust in him right now.”

Nixon was the lone player in the game with multiple hits (two singles). Rivera allowed two hits, walked two and struck out five.

The Colonels now look to qualify for the state playoffs with a win in the regional final. Broad Run has been dominant during its season with a 137-35 scoring edge over its opponents.

James Wood believes it has momentum coming off of Monday’s thriller.

“It’s chemistry,” Spaid said of the team’s success. “We all know we’re going to pick each other up. When somebody goes down, somebody is right behind them picking them up. It’s just a bond that can’t be broken.”

“Every night we just keep fighting,” Adrian Pullen added. “We just keep believing. It’s pretty awesome.”

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