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LEESBURG — The James Wood baseball team isn't going to be ripping three-run homers and piling up extra-base hits and runs by the boatload this season.

But what the Colonels can do is win in pressure-packed situations with good pitching and defense and that's what decided Tuesday's clash against Heritage in the Region 4C semifinals.

Down to its final three outs, James Wood got an RBI single in the top of the seventh from Kemper Omps to tie the score and pinch-runner Evan Lafollette scored on a wild pitch in the next inning as the defending regional champs and last season's Class 4 runners-up edged Heritage 2-1.

Nick Bell tossed a three-hitter for the Colonels (18-3), who will host Tuscarora, a 3-1 winner over Kettle Run, at 6:30 p.m. on Friday in the regional championship game.

The Colonels triumphed, despite leaving 11 runners on base as they were blanked over the first six innings by Heritage freshman Mark Van Tuyle.

But somehow, they managed to pull out the win by scoring off a pair off relief pitchers in their final two at-bats.

"We're used to it," said Colonels coach Adrian Pullen of the drama-filled contest. "We're built for close games. We keep believing and relying on our brother to do it. Every day it can be a different guy. That's the beauty of this team.

"Every team is different," he added. "This is a different team than last year. We're on the same path. We're still haven't played that perfect game and that's great and we keep winning. We win when we have to."

"I told the boys before the game that the team that makes the least mistakes is probably going to win," Heritage coach Nolan Potts said. "We were very evenly matched. I told them right there at the end that we blinked and they were able to scratch the runs across. When you play a good team, your margin for error is not much."

From the start, the Colonels had opportunities against Van Tuyle, who seemed totally unfazed by the gravity of the situation. The freshman, whose brother Aaron had been the team ace before being injured recently, stranded runners in scoring position in the first, second, fourth and fifth innings. In only one frame did Van Tuyle retire James Wood in order.

"For a freshman to step up in that big moment and do everything that he did tonight, he was mature beyond his years," Potts said. "He's one of the most mature kids we've got and he's 14. Big moments don't get to him and he doesn't get fazed. He just goes out there and does his job."

Van Tuyle also provided his own lead as he dueled Bell, who was perfect through three innings. In the fourth, Luke Howard led off with a single and was bunted to second. With two outs, Van Tuyle laced a single to center and Howard beat the throw home to make it 1-0.

While Van Tuyle was getting out of jams, his pitch count was climbing. Having never thrown more than 87 pitches this season, he hit No. 100 getting the final out in the sixth.

With Van Tuyle having only a few pitches left before he would have to come out, Potts went to Alec Jones to close out the final inning, but the Colonels finally broke through.

Leading off, Michael Jackson was down 1-2 in the count, but fought back and was hit with a 3-2 pitch. With John Copenhaver faking a bunt, the speedy Jackson swiped second base on the first pitch. Copenhaver then bunted Jackson over to third.

The Pride brought the infield way in as Jones faced Omps, who had doubled for one of the Colonels' two hits against Van Tuyle. Down 0-1 in the count, Omps drilled a single to center to plate Jackson.

"I just tried to stay calm and relaxed," Omps said of his at-bat. "I just wanted to put the ball in play. That's all I can really do. ... When I get in the box, I try to look around and hit the ball where they're really not."

"He was clutch tonight," Bell said of Omps. "We always have trust in him. I knew he was going to come through eventually. He just stayed back and poked one right up the middle."

The Colonels nearly added another run as they loaded the bases on a pair of walks with two outs. Jones was able to get Bell on a pop-up to shortstop on a 3-2 pitch to end the threat.

Bell retired Heritage easily in the seventh to send the game to extra innings.

Against new reliever Jack Holland, the Colonels were able to score the game-winner without the benefit of a hit. Down 0-2, leadoff hitter Deuce Strosnider fought back and drew his second walk of the game.

Pullen then put in pinch-runner Lafollette, one of the team's best baserunners. Lafollette took off for second and when the throw was high into center field, he made a quick read and raced to third to beat the throw from the outfield. With Sam Jackson squaring like he would bunt, Holland uncorked a wild pitch and Lafollette raced home to snap the tie.

"Evan came in and did a great job baserunning," Bell said. "He's been ready waiting the whole game and he delivered in the moment."

Pullen said Lafollette, who started at times this season in the outfield, has been valuable on the basepaths.

"That's part of the reason why we made the change in right field," Pullen said of Lafollette. "Now I have him to courtesy run and be a pinch-runner. In that situation, he won the game for us."

Some drama still remained in the bottom of the inning. Bell got two quick outs, but an infield error compounded by a throwing error put the speedy Howard at second base with two outs.

Bell then fell behind 3-0 against Jones, but the senior right-hander fought back. After two strikes, Bell blew a fastball past Jones on his 100th pitch for his eighth strikeout.

"My defense was insane tonight," said Bell, who improved to 6-0 on the season and did not walk a batter. "Nothing got by them. When I can trust them like that, I have no fear."

"Nick was who he is," said Pullen. "He's a bulldog. I trust him every time I send him out there. ... He's pitched with us since he was a sophomore and he's never backed down."

"The reason he's been so good for them the last three years is he throws strikes," Potts said. ""In high school if you can throw strikes and let your defense make plays, you don't have to throw 90 mph to get guys out. He was as good as advertised. ... It seemed like he almost got stronger as the game went on."

The Colonels are happy to guarantee themselves another shot at the state tournament.

"It's special," Omps said. "It's a lot of hard work and practicing every day."

"It's great," Pullen said. "It shows that we're not a one-hit wonder. We believe in ourselves, in our system and in our program. No matter who we've got, we'll continue to march forward towards that goal. That's our goal every year."

Potts, a Handley grad and former Shenandoah University player, liked what he saw in his first season with the Pride (16-8).

"They're district champions in the regular season for the first time," he said. "They won 16 games. They hosted a region game for the first time in school history. I told them to keep their heads up."

— Contact Walt Moody at

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