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SPOTSYLVANIA COURTHOUSE — Over the course of the season, the James Wood High School baseball team rarely faces a left-handed pitcher of any kind, much less one that has Division I talent.

And that’s exactly what the Colonels got in Friday’s Class 4 semifinal matchup against Hanover.

Nolan Williamson tossed a three-hitter and struck out 12 as the Hawks made a pair of first-inning runs hold up for a 2-0 victory in a rematch of last season’s championship game.

Brady Elrod’s diving catch along the right field line in the top of the sixth inning helped Hanover (18-8) advance to Saturday’s title game at Spotsylvania High School. The Hawks will meet Smithfield, a 1-0 winner against Tuscarora, for the championship.

The Colonels (19-5) never found an answer for Williamson, who will pitch collegiately at VMI. The left-hander had at least one strikeout in every inning and struck out two batters in five frames.

“He had good command of all of his pitches,” said James Wood first baseman Jared Neal. “He kept us a little bit off-balance and he was mixing his pitches well. I don’t know. It was one of those days.”

Colin McGuire, who tossed a five-hitter, said the Colonels brought in a left-hander this week to practice against, but that couldn’t make up for a season of not seeing a pitcher like Williamson.

“One time I just don’t think is enough when you’re playing teams of this caliber,” the senior said. “We just didn’t see enough lefties throughout the year and I think that was one of our issues.”

“Hat’s off to the lefty,” Colonels coach Adrian Pullen said. “We don’t see many lefties and we really don’t see great lefties. He is a great pitcher.”

While he throws five difference pitches, Williamson said he stuck with his fastball, slider and changeup against the Colonels.

“I didn’t have my best stuff on the mound, but I just attacked the zone,” said Williamson, who used his his fastball that’s been clocked in the mid to high 80’s as his big strikeout pitch. “I trusted the defense behind me and luckily I was blowing it by a few people.”

The 6-foot-2 Williamson set the tone in the first inning by striking out two batters, while never throwing a pitch out of the strike zone.

McGuire, the Region 4C Player of the Year, wasn’t as fortunate. With one out, McGuire walked Jack Bowles, hit Williamson with a pitch and walked Cole Elrod to load the bases.

After falling behind in the count 0-2, Booty Simons grounded an infield hit up the middle to plate Bowles to make it 1-0. Brady Elrod followed with a sharp single to center to plate another run. McGuire was able to avoid any more damage by getting a short fly to right and a strikeout.

“My stride length was a little too long in the first inning,” McGuire explained. “I was dropping underneath my cutter. After the first inning, I worked on it and I got my cutter back on. I pitched them backwards all day long and it was working.”

McGuire stranded runners at second and third in the second inning and had two more runners on base when he got out of the third frame.

According to Pullen, McGuire had thrown 71 pitches through the first three innings, but got the Hawks out on 39 pitches in the final three innings.

“I lost focus to a good team in the first inning and I can’t do that,” McGuire said. “I was scrapping my way through every single out. That’s what I had to do today.”

“Giving up two in the first and then coming back all of the way, that’s Hanover over there,” Neal said of McGuire's effort. “They’re a powerhouse. To go five scoreless innings against them is pretty incredible for him.”

“He mixed pitches really well,” Williamson said of McGuire. “He kept us off-balance with his slider and he got a lot of weak contact.”

Deuce Strosnider’s single in the third provided the first baserunner for the Colonels.

An inning later, they had their first real threat. John Copenhaver led off with an infield hit, but was cut down when the Colonels tried a hit-and-run. Neal followed with a single to right and McGuire walked, but Williamson got a strikeout and a fly ball to end the inning.

In the sixth, Kemper Omps led off with a single to left. After a strikeout and a groundout, Omps was at second with McGuire at the plate.

On a 1-1 pitch, McGuire sliced a liner down the right field line. Brady Elrod raced over and made a diving grab. The spectacular catch not only saved a run, but at least a triple for McGuire.

“I’m not one to lose my temper too much,” McGuire said. “That one definitely broke me a little bit.”

“Oh, my God,” exclaimed Williamson when asked about the catch. “That was awesome. I needed something like that and it came at the right time. It got us fired up and I think it shut them down. That was like the last energy they had.”

Williamson, who tore his labrum sliding into a bag during the 2022 season, gave the Colonels no chance of pulling off a seventh-inning comeback from a two-run deficit like they did in a 6-5 win over Monacan in the 2022 semifinals.

After getting a groundout to open the inning, he struck out the final James Wood hitters. He allowed just one walk in the contest.

“Once again, we couldn’t string anything together,” said Pullen, whose team scored just five runs in four regional and state games. “We had a couple of opportunities and we didn’t execute several times.”

The Hawks, who did not fall against any team in the state last season, lost five consecutive games at one point early in this spring. Since the regional playoffs began, they have outscored their postseason foes 45-8. Friday was their closest game since the regular season ended.

“This year started out as a bit of a struggle for us trying to find our identity,” said Williamson, who said he wasn’t fully recovered from his injury until mid-March to early April. “We weren’t going to be able to throw 95 mph by people and hit bombs like we did last year.”

Williamson said the Hawks had to rely more on their speed this season and playing small ball.

“They’re a different team, just like we’re a different team from last year,” said Pullen. “When you have different teams, you have to adjust and adapt as a coach. That’s the beauty of baseball — there’s not one way to do it.”

Despite the outcome Friday, James Wood’s eight seniors (Nick Bell, Michael Jackson, McGuire, Miller, Neal, Daniel Franceschi, Ethan Pingley, Clayton Braithwaite) will leave the program having made an indelible mark.

“As I told them over there, these guys are the only guys who can say in James Wood baseball history that they’ve been to back-to-back semifinal games,” Pullen said. “No one else can say that other than these guys right here.”

“I feel like we’ve definitely set the stepping stones for future classes at James Wood High School,” McGuire said. “We set the bar high with back-to-back semifinal appearances, but I feel like the underclassmen are up to the task. I feel like they can continue the path of success.”

Pullen believes that success can continue.

“We have a great thing going in our program,” he said. “The kids believe. That we’re here is a testament of their belief, their effort and they way they work day-in and day-out. I ask a lot of my players and they came through. They come to work every day, even sometimes when they don’t want to.

“We’re going to do it the way we do it. We don’t have the most athletic ability in the state, but we’re here. A lot of people are going to say we overachieved. Maybe we did. I don’t know. Our goal was to get to [Saturday] and we came up one day short.”

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