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The hallmark of the James Wood baseball team over the past three seasons, especially in the playoffs, has been strong pitching, solid defense and timely hitting.

But on Tuesday in the Region 4D title game, the Colonels struggled in all three phases in an 8-4 loss at Blacksburg.

James Wood (14-9) will travel to the Region 4C champion on Tuesday in the Class 4 quarterfinals.

Against Blacksburg (19-3), Colonel pitchers allowed just five hits, but they had five walks and hit two batters. James Wood also had five hits and received seven walks, but scored all of its runs in one inning.

“We just didn’t play well,” James Wood coach Adrian Pullen said via a phone call after the game. “It was uncharacteristic for the last few games that we’ve played, but you are bound to have that here and there.”

The first inning might have been a microcosm of the struggle on Tuesday. The Colonels could not plate a runner from third with less than two outs in the top of the inning. Two errors and a balk contributed to Blacksburg grabbing a 2-0 lead on a pair of unearned runs.

Still, James Wood fought back to get the lead in the top of the third. The Colonels drew three walks to load the bases with one out. John Copenhaver’s infield single plated the first run and Deuce Strosnider’s walk tied the score at 2-2. Coby Nesselrodt followed with a sacrifice fly and another came in when the Bruins booted Parker Kerns’ grounder to make it 4-2.

“We gave up two unearned in the first,” Pullen said. “The rain was coming up and starting up and we scored four. They helped us out a little bit. They had some trouble throwing strikes and we took advantage in that inning. Then we turn around and give it back to them.”

The Bruins scored three in the bottom of the inning to take the lead for good. A double and two walks opened the inning and knocked out Colonels’ starter Garett McAlexander. Against reliever Parker Kerns, the Bruins got a sacrifice fly, a bases-loaded walk and hit batter to go ahead 5-4.

Blacksburg would tack on three more runs in the fourth against relievers Tyler Walter and Cade Delawder. A walk, a hit batter and a double-steal put runners at second and third. Reese Tysor’s infield hit drove in one and two more scored on an error.

The Bruins got excellent relief help. Mason Underwood took over for starter Brice Abbott and threw 3.2 innings of scoreless relief, allowing one hit with two walks and four strikeouts. Sam Szefc closed and allowed a hit and a walk in the seventh, but got a strikeout and a line out to end the game.

“He kept us off-balance with offspeed,” Pullen said of Underwood. “He was a little bit slower. We just have to make adjustments on it.”

Logan Bower (double), Kemper Omps, Brock Whipkey, Copenhaver and Nesselrodt each had a hit for the Colonels. Bradley Kimble pitched the final 2.2 innings of relief, allowing no hits or walks with three strikeouts.

Szefc had two hits and scored three runs, while Tysor and Max Matthews drove in two for the Bruins.

“The game of baseball is back and forth and it was two teams that wanted to win and two teams that played hard,” Pullen said. “They played cleaner than we did. They made the routine plays and we didn’t.”

Pullen said he was impressed with the Bruins. “They were well-coached and played the game hard,” he said. “They were scrappy and made plays, not just the routine plays, but they made a couple of highlight plays on us. The had one or two diving catches in the outfield that could have changed the game. The ball just didn’t bounce our way tonight, that’s all.”

The Colonels will look ahead to the state quarterfinals where they have had some recent success on the road. Last season, they knocked off Amherst 3-2 after finishing as the Region 4C runner-up.

“I think we’re fine,” Pullen said. “We’ve got a week to prepare. We’ll hit it hard tomorrow and Thursday. Friday will be an off day with graduation. Then we’ll get back at it on Saturday. We’ll have four practice days before the next practice game.

“All year, we haven’t let one loss get us down,” he added. “We fight back and we’ll work hard. ... To get where we want to be it takes hard work, taking advantage of opportunities, battling out at-bats, making the routine play, throwing strikes and letting high school hitters get themselves out. We just have to do the little things right.”

— Contact Walt Moody at
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