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James Wood High School baseball coach Adrian Pullen knew what the proverbial book said about the situation his team faced in the final inning of Tuesday’s Class 4 quarterfinal at Amherst County.

With a runner at second and two outs, you’re never supposed to put the winning run on base, much less put him in scoring position.

But Pullen threw the book away and the Colonels made it work. Nick Bell struck out Amherst’s David Travis with the bases loaded to close out James Wood’s 3-2 victory.

Kemper Omps’ infield single in the top of the seventh plated the game-winner for the Colonels (19-4), who will face Hanover in a rematch of last season’s state title game at 10 a.m. at Spotsylvania High School on Friday. Tuscarora and Smithfield will meet in the other semifinal with the winners squaring off at 10 a.m. on Saturday in the title game.

“We get the rematch,” Pullen said via telephone after the Colonels arrived back in town. “It’s just one game sooner.”

Tuesday’s contest was tied 1-1 through five innings and Bell and South Carolina commit Dalton Wentz dueled on the mound.

The Colonels took the lead in the sixth as Jared Neal doubled, moved up a base on Colin McGuire’s fly to right and scored on Eli Miller’s single.

Following a double play, the Lancers (20-4) loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth on two singles and a walk. Lathan Bryan’s grounder got through McGuire at third to score a run, but the shortstop Miller backed up the play and threw a one-hop strike to catcher John Copenhaver to get the runner trying to score from second base.

“It’s just a heads-up play by Eli being where he is supposed to be,” Pullen said. “… It probably saved the game for us actually.”

The Colonels bounced back in the top of the seventh. With two outs Michael Jackson singled. On the second pitch to Omps, Jackson swiped second and went to third on an error on the play. With Wentz at 100 pitches (the cutoff to be eligible to pitch again on Saturday), the Lancers brought in Nick Dawson to face Omps with a 1-1 count. The lefty hit Dawson’s first pitch for an infield single that brought home Jackson.

Pullen had seen Dawson pitch in Amherst’s Region 4D win over Louisa County last week.

“I had a pretty good book on him and talked to Kemper and told him what to expect,” Pullen said.

In the bottom of the inning, Derrick Mason led off with a single and was bunted to second. Bell struck out the next hitter to bring up Wentz, who had homered in the first inning. Pullen put him on and then put on Christian Harris, who had hit the ball hard twice in previous at-bats.

“I said they are not going to beat me,” Pullen explained of putting on Wentz and Harris on base. “Throw the book away. We put the winning run on second base and Wentz can run. If they get a base hit, then we lose. But, I didn’t care.”

That brought up Amherst cleanup hitter Travis, who had an infield hit and walk among three previous plate appearances. Bell was up 0-1 and 1-2 in the count before striking out Travis on a 2-2 pitch, his 106th of the game.

Bell, who is headed to Shenandoah University, finished with a seven-hitter and nine strikeouts against the Lancers, who Pullen called the best hitting team the Colonels have faced this season.

Because Bell threw more than 100 pitches, he is mandated to have four days rest and would not be available if James Wood reaches the title game on Saturday.

Pullen said it was a great final game for the right-hander. “The only better ending it would be if it was on Saturday,” Pullen said. “… He’s had a stellar career and he’s been everything that I’ve ever asked out of him.”

The Colonels scored an unearned run in the first against the Lancers, who committed four errors in the contest.

Omps, moved to the leadoff slot from the No. 2 hole, reached on a two-base error. Copenhaver bunted him to third and Omps scored when Neal reached on an error.

“We came out swinging against a kid who is 88-92 (mph) on the mound with a slider and a changeup,” said Pullen, whose team has struggled offensively in recent games. “We executed tonight. We were relaxed and we went opposite field. We stayed in system tonight.”

Pullen took the blame for Wentz’s blast off Bell in the bottom of the first. “I wanted to come up-and-in, instead of low-and-in,” Pullen said. “If you’ve watched enough baseball, every lefty their sweet spot is low-and-in and they have a little hole up-and-in.

“Well, guess what? He’s the one percenter that doesn’t have that hole up-and-in. Nick made a great pitch, but the kid just jumped on it. We didn’t make that mistake again.”

McGuire, who made two stellar defensive plays at third base, led the Colonels with two hits. McGuire will start against Hanover, who defeated the Colonels 11-0 in the title game last season. The Hawks, the Region 4B champions, defeated Jamestown 5-2 on Tuesday.

Pullen said he is proud that his squad advanced to the final four.

“It means a lot to our program,” he said. “As I’ve said before it’s not a one-hit wonder. We’ve been to three region championship games in a row, two state appearances in a row and now we’re going to our second state semifinal. I think we are in a good place as a program. The kids are buying what I’m selling and they believe in themselves. That’s the key to everything.”

— Contact Walt Moody at
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