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WINCHESTER — In its first two matchups against Millbrook this season, the James Wood High School baseball team had a total of eight hits.

In Tuesday’s Class 4 Northwestern District championship game, the Colonels had that number by the third inning.

And thanks to those three big offensive innings, the Colonels are the district champions for the first time since 2007. Keyed by a three-run homer from Jayden Nixon and a three-run double by Luke Gross, visiting James Wood built a quick 9-0 lead and hung on for a 9-4 triumph against the Pioneers.

“It’s huge,” Nixon said of the district crown. “It’s something we’ve wanted for four years now. It’s sweet to finally have it.”

“It’s huge,” James Wood coach Adrian Pullen agreed. “We’ve been down for awhile, but hopefully we’ve got the program going in the right direction. We’ve got kids believing and they’re playing hard every pitch.”

James Wood (12-3) will host the Dulles District runner-up on Monday in the Region 4C semifinals, while Millbrook (13-2) will travel to the Dulles District champion. Broad Run (12-1) and Heritage (11-2) will battle for the Dulles title on Friday.

The Colonels and Pioneers had split two pitcher’s duels during the regular season with Millbrook winning the first 3-1 and James Wood taking the regular-season finale 3-2.

Both times the Colonels had faced Pioneers ace Jerrod Jenkins, so Millbrook coach Brian Burke elected to start Ethan Burgreen, the Pioneers’ No. 2 starter. Burgreen entered the contest with a sparkling 6-0 record and had not give up an earned run in 25.1 innings.

“Ethan has shown us he’s capable of throwing against anybody in our district,” Burke said. “To see Jerrod three times, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Ethan has proven himself a solid No. 2 — and that’s really an understatement — by what he’s been able to do throughout the season.”

“We were going to see Jenkins or Burgreen, one or the other,” Pullen said. “We had seen Jenkins twice so I don’t blame them at all. Burgreen is a great pitcher.”

But from the onset, the Colonels were able to connect against Burgreen.

Leadoff hitter Bodie Pullen smacked Burgreen’s first pitch into left field. After Nixon walked, Kaden Spaid’s check-swing roller to the mound essentially served as a bunt as both baserunners advanced. Aden Payne’s groundout plated Bodie Pullen and Colin McGuire lined a single to left to score Nixon and quickly give the Colonels a 2-0 lead.

“When we get that jump in the first, that really ignites everybody,” Adrian Pullen said. “Then it just gets contagious.”

After having a baserunner erased on a doubleplay grounder in the top of the second, the Colonels erupted again. Jacob Roy belted a double to left-center and Bodie Pullen walked to bring up the lefty-swinging Nixon. Burgreen got ahead in the count, but got a pitch up and Nixon turned on it, blasting a towering drive just to the right of the 365-foot sign in right-center field for a three-run bomb.

“He had me 0-2,” Nixon recalled of his at-bat. “I was just thinking in my mind, ‘Just put the barrel on the ball.’ I was trying to relax and just think about that. I hit it and it really didn’t feel real.”

“It gave us a huge confidence boost,” said Nick Bell, who earned the victory in relief. “Everyone got all up in the dugout and the energy just went up 100,000 times.”

The Colonels piled on four more runs an inning later. McGuire reached on an error, Brody Bower notched an infield single and Jaden Ashby walked to load the bases with no outs. Gross unloaded them by lining a double into the right-field corner to make it 8-0.

“It was a great feeling,” said Gross. “My teammates did a great job of getting on base and giving me the opportunity. … I got behind in the count. I really wasn’t trying to do too much with it, just trying to poke it. Luckily, it found a gap.”

Gross’ hit chased Burgreen, who allowed eight hits, walked three and did not strike out a batter. Burgreen, who had not thrown in a game since a one-inning stint in the regular-season finale against the Colonels, struggled with the strike zone Tuesday.

“It was uncharacteristic and he was having some trouble locating his secondary pitches,” Burke said. “They jumped on him and when you fall behind in the count you’re going to eventually have to give in to a hitter.”

“We just put good swings on the ball,” Adrian Pullen said. “I don’t think it was that he was bad. We just had good swings. We had a good first three innings.”

Gross swiped third and scored on Bodie Pullen’s RBI groundout against reliever Aiden Henry and the Colonels led 9-0.

“We got hot,” Gross said. “A few pokes got out there. Teammates had good walks and good looks. We were hitting the ball hard. Some of them weren’t falling, but some of them were.”

Within a run of losing by the mercy rule, the Pioneers fought back and chased Pioneers starter Spaid in the fourth. Logan Hartigan led off with a walk, swiped second and scored on Jenkins’ RBI single to right. After Hayden Burke reached on an infield single, Nate Brookshire lashed an RBI double to left to end Spaid’s afternoon.

Bell relieved and gave up an RBI groundout to William Croyle and Sebastian Tringali’s RBI single before getting out of the inning.

“When I came in I was trying to pound the zone,” the sophomore right-hander said. “We had a pretty good lead, so I figured one or two runs scoring isn’t that big a deal. We just need to get outs and get out of the inning.”

From there, neither team scored.

Bell allowed three hits, walked two and struck out two, including the final out of the game, in 3.2 innings.

“Nick’s effort was great,” Adrian Pullen said. “Again, that’s a good-hitting club. You’ve got to pitch around the zone. You can’t throw it down the middle and hope for the best.”

“It’s more difficult because they’ve seen me once before, but I know how to attack hitters because I have seen them once before this,” Bell said. “In the summer, I’ve played with a lot of these guys before. They know what I’m throwing.”

Henry, a crafty lefty, allowed three hits, walked one and struck out three in five innings to keep the Pioneers in the game.

“Aiden, by far it was a quality outing to keep them at nine,” Brian Burke said. “With the way they were hitting the ball around the park, he did an outstanding job. It was really good to see this late that we can rely on him and put him into big situations. He came out and competed and mixed his pitches well. He did a phenomenal job for us.”

Gross, McGuire and Bower each rapped two of the Colonels’ 11 hits. Jenkins and Hayden Burke each had two of the Pioneers’ seven hits.

Brian Burke was happy with the way his team fought and expects his players to bounce back on Monday.

“We could have very easily hung our heads and left here 10-0 or more. For them to be able to string some things together and compete, that’s always a good sign of a good team.

“… This was Game 15 for us. We’ve gotten such great outings on the mound throughout the season. Sooner or later, a pitcher is going to have a night like that. You just have to have short-term memories. If you don’t have short-term memory in baseball, you need to find something else to play.”

The Colonels didn’t have a raucous celebration after the final out and seemed very businesslike.

“It’s very exciting for sure winning this,” Nixon said. “… We know we have to come out Monday or whenever the next game is after that and win. We’re looking for the state title. This is just a bump in the road.”

Gross said he and his teammates aren’t taking the district crown and school’s first regional berth since 2008 for granted. “The guys have worked so hard,” Gross said. “They’ve worked harder than I’ve ever seen them. As a senior, I’ve been here for four years. The atmosphere and chemistry that we have, we’re just rolling. We’ve got to keep the momentum up, but gosh it means a lot for the school. It means a lot for the team and it means a lot for the guys.”

— Contact Walt Moody at
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