previous arrow
next arrow

WINCHESTER — Senior Aden Payne remembers a time when facing a late deficit against a strong opponent spelled disaster for the James Wood baseball team.

But this spring has been different and the Colonels showed how in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round of the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament at R. Charles Hott Field.

Trailing Sherando 4-1 after four innings, James Wood got even in the fifth and erupted for six runs in the sixth to knock off the Warriors 10-4.

“I think a couple of years ago and we are down 4-1, we would have been, ‘Oh man, here we go,’” said Payne, who had three hits including two-run double in the fifth. “Everybody would have been down. But, we knew tonight. We know we’re good. We know we’re going to put the bat on the ball. We know we’re going to compete.”

First-year coach Adrian Pullen says his team expects success, not defeat. It’s shown as the Colonels have compiled a 10-3 record and now have a chance to earn a regional berth with a win at Kettle Run at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

“We just keep doing it over and over,” Pullen said. “When you say it enough and you do it enough and the repetition is there, you start believing.”

Sherando (7-6) certainly had the Colonels, who had beaten them 17-4 and 10-0 in the regular season, on the ropes heading into the bottom of the fifth. Warriors starter Mason See had frustrated the James Wood hitters by working out of jams and Sherando had taken advantage of an error in a two-run fourth to extend its 2-1 lead.

Using a boxing analogy, Warriors coach Pepper Martin thought his team had landed a solid punch. “Early on we hung right in the game and put a little standing eight count on them,” Martin said. “But they got themselves back off the canvas and we just couldn’t sustain that throughout the game.”

The Colonels got even in the fifth. Bodie Pullen led off with a single and walks to Jayden Nixon and Kaden Spaid loaded the bases for Payne, the Colonels’ RBI leader. After taking a strike, Payne looped a fly ball into right that fell for a two-run double. Colin McGuire followed with a sacrifice fly to deep center to knot the score at 4-4.

“That was really a good pitch,” Payne said of See’s first offering. “It’s tough having the take sign. It worked out well. It was a good pitch away and I tried to stay through it and hit it to right field.”

Payne has been hitting in the clutch all season for the Colonels and with his three hits in now batting well above .400.

It’s been an outstanding season at the plate from someone who expected to make his biggest impact on the mound. But Payne had to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and has been relegated mostly to a designated hitter role with an occasional stint at first base.

“He’s one of the hardest working kids out there and he wants it,” Pullen said. “He wants to do whatever he can to be part of this. … He loves his role as the DH or if he’s in the field. “

“It’s really trying to focus on my mechanics more,” Payne said of his hitting success. “I never really thought about my swing mechanics when I would pitch. Hitting was always just kind of extra. Now that it’s been pushed to the front, I’m really focused on trying to do things right and taking it serious.”

Payne was in the middle of the things again in the next inning against Sherando reliever James Harris, who started the frame as See was just 10 pitches short of his 110-pitch maximum.

Jacob Roy drew a walk and raced home on Bodie Pullen’s double to right-center. Spaid and Payne (intentional) drew walks before McGuire’s sacrifice fly to right made it 6-4.

With Spaid on at third and Payne at first, the Colonels tried a play that happened by accident earlier in the game. Payne got himself intentionally caught in a rundown and when the moment seemed right Spaid broke from third to score.

A similar play got James Wood its first run in the third inning, but that time Payne admits he missed a sign as he fell down intentionally between first and second. Spaid’s outstanding slide barely beat the tag at the plate that time.

“We worked on something the other day,” Adrian Pullen said. “We didn’t quite achieve exactly what we were looking for. … We’re trying to be aggressive. Sometimes you have to do things a little above and beyond to get some excitement and belief going.”

Leading 7-4, James Wood would add three more runs. Brody Bower’s triple to deep center plated two of them and he later scored on a wild pitch.

The cushion was plenty for reliever Nick Bell. The sophomore right-hander pitched four hitless innings of relief, with a walk and two strikeouts.

“I trust my defense behind me no matter what,” Bell said of his success. “When I can trust my defense, I can go in and pound strikes and not worry about it.”

Sherando opened the scoring in the third on a bizarre play. With the bases loaded, Drew Franchok drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch, but the home plate umpire had the count wrong. After Sherando had two baserunners called out as the ball whipped around the diamond, the umpires made the correct call after a conference and a run scored. Parker Clendenen followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.

An inning later, Andrew Plunkett led off with a single and Tanner Muller walked before Zach Symons’ sacrifice bunt. Tyler Campbell then hit a grounder that was booted and both baserunners scored to make it 4-1.

Plunkett and Harris had the Warriors’ lone two hits in the contest, though several outs were hit sharply. “We actually hit the ball well tonight,” Martin said. “It doesn’t look like it when you see the total number of hits we had in the game. We must have lined out five or six times tonight. We hit the ball hard, but we hit it right at them and they made the play.

“I was really proud of this team,” Martin added. “The previous two regular season games against James Wood, we flat out got humbled. It wasn’t even close. For us to come out here tonight, the players were ready to go. They believed they could win this game and for the first four innings we were right there with them. We just couldn’t hold onto the lead.”

Bodie Pullen and Bower had two hits each for the Colonels, who get a chance to avenge a 3-2 loss at Kettle Run during the regular season.

“We have just got to play our game,” Adrian Pullen said of the semifinal matchup. “We have got to do what we do and trust in each other and we will be fine. The outcome we can’t control. All we can control is what we do. Our thing is just pitch-by pitch and inning-by-inning. If you win every inning, you’re going to be successful in the end.”

Tuesday’s win was confirmation the Colonels can do that.

“It’s huge,” Payne said of the triumph. “This is just a completely different atmosphere with everything we do — practice, team dinners, all of the extra stuff we do. … It’s a whole different feel. We feel like we can win. Everybody is confident. It’s completely different from what it’s been like the last few years.”

“It feels really good,” Bell added. “It feels like team morale is really high. It feels good that we’re moving on to the next game.”

— Contact Walt Moody at

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow on Twitter @WinStarSports1