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WINCHESTER — When the James Wood and Millbrook baseball teams have squared off against each other over the past three seasons, usually something bigger than bragging rights was on the line.

Often the Class 4 Northwestern District lead or title has been at stake, and even possibly a regional crown.

But on Thursday night at R. Charles Hott Field, the two rivals met under totally different circumstances. The two area baseball powers met with just one win between them in seven previous decisions.

The Colonels, looking for their first win of the season, got it. Garett McAlexander delivered a gutty pitching performance and James Wood scored seven runs in the opening two innings on the way to a 10-4 triumph against the Pioneers.

“It was really big,” said Colonels center fielder Kemper Omps, who scored twice and drove in a pair during the victory. “It was a good first win. We played really well as a team and did the things that we had been working on in practice all week.”

James Wood had a lot of time to practice and evaluate since it had not played in nine days since dropping a 4-3 decision to unbeaten Sherando.

“We played the best we’ve played all year,” said Colonels coach Adrian Pullen, whose team advanced to the Class 4 finals in 2022 and to the semifinals in 2023. “We swung the bat in the first two innings and scored seven. We worked hard in the practices that we’ve had. … We talked about our two-strike approach. We cut down on strikeouts tonight and hit the ball up the middle with hard line drives. It was nice to see what we’ve worked on work out tonight.”

The contest didn’t get off to a great start for the Colonels and McAlexander. Millbrook’s Chase Ford started his big night with a double. One out later, Micah George was hit by a pitch and then the two baserunners pulled off a double steal with two outs. Dylan Apfel then lined a single up the middle to make it 2-0.

But the Colonels came back in the bottom of the inning to grab the lead. Millbrook starter Devin Reid plunked both Omps and John Copenhaver to lead off the contest and Deuce Strosnider singled to load the bases.

Zach Woskobunik’s sacrifice fly to center got the Colonels on the board and McAlexander helped himself with an RBI single to right. With runners at second and third and two outs, freshman Parker Kerns looped a two-run single to right to put the Colonels up 4-2.

Millbrook climbed back within a run in the second. Tanner Barb (2-for-3 in the game) belted a double to the fence and later Ford smacked an RBI single to make it 4-3.

That would be as close as they would get. The Colonels scored three in the bottom of the frame. Logan Bower led off with a triple to right and raced home to score on Omps’ fielder’s choice grounder. Omps swiped second and scored on an error. McAlexander would add another RBI single to left to make it 7-3.

From that point, McAlexander settled in nicely. Over the next four innings, the right-hander would allow a run on four hits, while striking out five.

“I had confidence in myself and the team,” said McAlexander of recovering from a tough start. “We put up some runs and that gave us the lead. I knew I was pitching with the lead, so all I had to do was throw strikes and my defense would help me out.”

On a chilly evening, McAlexander said he turned mostly to his fastball and slider which he began to locate better as the game progressed. “I was missing high in the beginning of the game and it showed with the couple deep balls they hit,” he said. “Later in the game, I got it down a little bit and got some swings and misses there.”

Pullen wasn’t surprised to see McAlexander get better as the game deepened. “He’s a competitor,” Pullen said. “He’s going to battle every time out. … When he was up they hit it hard, but he’s a bulldog and competitor. He’s going to give you that every time.”

Leading 7-4, the Colonels tacked on three more runs in the fifth. Two scored via wild pitches and Omps showed his speed by beating out a swinging bunt down the first-baseline for an RBI single.

“All I was doing was try to put the ball in play and score that run,” the senior said. “Just hustle, that’s all I can do.”

Ford had three hits, including two doubles and scored twice. The left fielder also made an outstanding diving catch to end the fifth and save a run.

“He’s had some tough luck early on,” Millbrook coach Brian Burke said of Ford, who will play collegiately at Bridgewater. “He busted out with a double against Liberty that kind of set the tone for what he was able to do tonight. He’s a good player. He’s gotten into his head a little bit, but we told him sooner or later things are going to start working his way. I’m proud of his effort.”

The disappointing thing for Burke is that his team hasn’t been making enough plays in a 1-4 start. While Reid didn’t have his best outing, the Pioneers had three errors and allowed a bunt hit when no one covered first base.

“We’ve got guys who basically showed tonight that they’re a little bit afraid to play the game like it is supposed to be,” Burke said. “They don’t want the baseball. … We can’t do that. It was a little bit frustrating tonight because there was the positive top of the first and we got the key hit, which we haven’t been able to do. All-in-all, it’s a work in progress. The good thing is we’ve got plenty of games to figure it out.”

Pullen is taking a similar approach with the Colonels, who have remained confident despite the tough start.

“There’s three seasons — the first 10, the second 10 and the postseason,” Pullen said. “In the first 10, we’re 1-3. In the end, we’ll see where we’re at. We didn’t get down on ourselves. We’ve stayed positive throughout and the kids are working hard in practice.”

Strosnider, Kerns, McAlexander and Bower each had two hits for the Colonels.

Omps hopes Thursday’s win will jump-start the Colonels. “It helps us a lot,” he said. “In the long run, getting a win against a crosstown rival means a lot.”

“We have full confidence we’re going to go all of the way,” McAlexander added. “We’re going to win that last game.”

Neither squad will play again until April 8, when the Colonels host Liberty and the Pioneers travel to Handley.

— Contact Walt Moody at
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