previous arrow
next arrow

WINCHESTER — James Wood head coach Adrian Pullen says he learned a little something last June from the program that eliminated his Colonels in the Class 4 semifinals.

Pullen said he saw eventual state champion Hanover take its lumps with young players early in the season, but the Hawks were a different team when they knocked off his squad 2-0.

With massive graduation losses from the previous season, the Colonels went through some of the same growing pains in March with both young and inexperienced players in the lineup. Now those pains have turned into gains.

Brock Whipkey, one of the newcomers, fired six shutout innings as the Colonels blanked Charlottesville 3-0 in the Region 4D semifinals at R. Charles Hott Field on Friday. Deuce Strosnider drove in a pair of runs for James Wood (14-8) which clinched a state tournament berth. The Colonels will travel to Blacksburg, a 3-2 semifinal winner over E.C. Glass, on Tuesday for the Region 4D title game at 5 p.m. Regardless of that result, they will play in the Class 4 quarterfinals on June 4.

“We knew early in the season, we were playing some young guys,” said Pullen, whose team has won four straight and seven of its last nine. “Our older guys didn’t have as much experience as others. We knew it was going to be a shaky start. The plan has worked out and we are right where we want to be. This is exactly what I thought and believed we were going to do. I believed what we would do in May with what we had come March.”

Whipkey is a perfect example. After a shaky start, he’s been excellent down the stretch. In his last two starts, he beat Fauquier 4-2 (allowing one earned run) and threw seven shutout innings against Warren County (which the Colonels won 1-0 in eight frames).

“I’ve got people ahead of me who need me,” Whipkey said of his late-season surge. “I have just got to give it my all. This is their last season … and I want it to last as long as it can for them.”

Pullen said that Whipkey has made a huge jump in one particular area — confidence.

“Once any kid gets confidence that he can be successful, then the skies are the limit,” Pullen said. “That goes for any of them. This game is so much about failure and how you handle it. When you can overcome failure and continue to believe in your stuff and make the adjustments on the fly, you’re going to be successful.”

Whipkey had to make one of those adjustments in the first inning. He opened the game with five straight balls, prompting a visit from catcher John Copenhaver. Whipkey, with help from Copenhaver gunning down speedy leadoff hitter Max Timmins on a steal attempt, got out of the inning unscathed, stranding two baserunners.

“You’ve got to want it more than the other person,” Whipkey said. “Once you believe in that you will be fine.”

Pullen said Whipkey showed in that frame his development.

“Early in the year, he couldn’t find that adjustment that he needed to make on his own,” Pullen said. “Now that’s what he’s doing. He knows what he’s got to do. He makes the adjustment and he gets back on track throwing strikes and getting people out.”

Pullen, ever the one to tinker, made an adjustment to the top of his batting order by moving Logan Bower to the leadoff spot. The move paid off as Bower opened the game with a single off of Andrew Cullinan and stole second. With two outs, Strosnider delivered a double into the left-center field gap to make the score 1-0.

“The at-bat before he had thrown John [Copenhaver] three straight curveballs,” Strosnider said. “I knew he was going to come back to the same thing and as of late I have really struggled staying back. ... I saw it and swung and happened to get a piece of the ball and drove in a run.”

The Colonels would add a run in the second. With one out, Parker Kerns reached on an error and then raced to third on a towering double by Whipkey to dead center. Zach Woskobunik followed with a sacrifice fly to center to make it 2-0.

In the third, Kemper Omps reached on an infield hit. Omps swiped second and moved to third on a passed ball before Strosnider delivered another sacrifice fly to center to make it 3-0.

While his squad managed just four hits, Pullen was happy the lineup shuffle put runs on the scoreboard.

“That’s the beauty of baseball — it’s a game of adjustments and changes,” he said. “You’re going to make changes that don’t work and you’re going to make changes that do work.”

Whipkey, who allowed five hits and three walks while striking out six, and the Colonels’ defense made the margin stick. Copenhaver threw out Timmins again in the third.

“He’s the best catcher I’ve ever pitched to in my life,” said Whipkey of Copenhaver. “It’s great to experience it, really.”

And this group, which features several players who advanced to the state title game in 2022 and to the semifinals last year, understands what it takes to win in the playoffs.

“We’re used to winning close ballgames here at James Wood,” Pullen said. “You pitch. You play defense and you get the timely hitting. That’s what baseball is all about.”

“I think that’s what we really excel at — we don’t fold under pressure,” Strosnider said. “We know when we need to get the job done.”

Bower, the team’s closer, got the Black Knights (9-13) in the seventh. He hit one batter, but was aided by a spectacular diving spear of a liner by third baseman Kerns. A comebacker ended the contest, which took just an hour and 20 minutes to play.

Cullinan blanked James Wood after the third and finished with six strikeouts and no walks. Henry Burnett had two hits.

The Colonels are happy their season will continue with their third consecutive state tournament berth.

“It’s everything,” Strosnider said of heading back to states. “… We started off a little shaky this year, but I never lost hope. Now, we’re right back where I expected us to be.”

— Contact Walt Moody at

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Follow on X @WinStarSports1