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LEESBURG — Coach Adrian Pullen had a smile on his face.

Considering what had just happened to his James Wood High School baseball team, most folks wouldn’t have expected that.

Three outs from victory in the Class 4 quarterfinals, the Colonels had seen Tuscarora score twice in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie the contest and then win 4-3 on Nick Sheehan’s two-out single in the bottom of the eighth.

Pullen, whose team had lost to the Huskies twice (7-1 and 9-5) during the regular season, saw a lot more from his squad than the final result.

“I am so proud of this team and the way they competed all year,” he said when asked about the tough loss. “Not a soul outside of our dugout believed we would be where we’re at, much less playing the way we did tonight against a team that is very good. They have a lot of talent. They have more talent than we do, but we work hard and we get everything out of talent that we have. Tonight, we proved that.

“We made changes in the lineup and we put people in positions that we knew they were prepared for. They went out and they were that close. We executed the plan we had in place to a T, right up until the very end.”

Certainly the Colonels (14-10) had the Huskies (18-7) on the ropes thanks in a big part to one of those surprise starters. With standout Garett McAlexander ailing, freshman pitcher Parker Kerns learned Monday evening that he would get a chance to start in the state playoffs.

Kerns responded by holding the Huskies to five hits and one run through six innings. Amazingly, he did that without striking out a batter the entire game.

“I’m just proud of my teammates,” Kerns said when asked about his effort. “They hustled their butts off. I didn’t have my stuff. [I had] zero strikeouts the whole time. I did everything I could and they backed me up and made every play.”

Kerns showed his moxie in the sixth inning, getting out of jam that could have allowed Tuscarora to tie the score. With runners at second and third and the home crowd screaming, Kerns got a fly ball to end the inning.

“You can’t ask any more from a freshman to come out and compete like he did on this stage,” Pullen said.

Throughout the contest, Kerns, who did not pitch against Tuscarora in the regular season, frustrated the Huskies hitters by firing as soon as the home plate umpire gave the OK.

“For us it was the timing aspect,” Tuscarora coach Noah Lacy said of Kerns’ effectiveness. “He was able change up his timing and he was working quick. I think early on we got a little too far ahead of ourselves. He did a good job of keeping us off-balance.”

“Parker works fast,” Pullen said. “Our hitters hate to face him because he just keeps you off-balance. He works fast and he throws strikes. He let [the Huskies] get themselves out all day long.”

Pullen sent Kerns out to start the seventh, but he walked the first batter. Pullen then went to the bullpen for closer Logan Bower, who had been lights out down the stretch of the season.

Bower walked his first batter and then was called for a balk to put runners at second and third. Bower fought back with a strikeout, but then Chas Battaglia beat out a seemingly routine grounder to short to make the score 3-2. Ashton Peshke then followed with a grounder to short that the Colonels were unable to turn a double play on and the score was tied at 3-3. Michael Kozikowski doubled inside the third base bag to put runners at second and third before Bower got a fly ball to end the inning and send the game into extras.

The Colonels had a chance to score in the eighth. Deuce Strosnider led off with a single and was sacrificed to second. On a 1-1 pitch, Strosnider swiped third, but he was left stranded as Brendan Cowen struck out Brock Whipkey and Zach Woskobunik. Cowen, a tall lefty, fanned nine in four innings of work.

Bower walked the first two hitters in the bottom of the inning and Pullen turned to McAlexander. After a groundout and with runners at second and third, McAlexander got a huge strikeout.

That brought up Sheehan who was 0-for-3 in the contest. Sheehan poked McAlexander’s first pitch past diving shortstop Strosnider, touching off a wild Tuscarora celebration as the Huskies swarmed the hero.

Sheehan, who is the team’s closer, this time ended the game with his bat.

“Really, all though the playoffs he’s stepped up with the bat,” Lacy said. “If you were to pick out one guy that you were really hunting for a guy to come alive, it was Nick Sheehan.”

Lacy said close wins have become synonymous this season with the Huskies, who have won eight times by two runs or less. They’ll meet Courtland (17-5) in the semifinals on Friday.

“I think they just play better when it’s tight,” he said. “They live for these moments. We’ve done this all year. They enjoy these big games.”

The Colonels, who had made the state finals and semifinals the last two seasons, like the pressure atmosphere, too, and they got off to a great start.

Kemper Omps used his legs to get the Colonels out front. With one out, Omps singled to right and then swiped second. John Copenhaver was hit by a pitch. Omps and Copenhaver then took off on a double-steal and Omps scored as the ball was thrown into left field trying to get him at third. Strosnider (walk) and Whipkey (line single up the middle) reached to load the bases before Tuscarora’s Orion Marshall got a strikeout to keep it 1-0.

The Colonels tacked on a run in the third. Strosnider was hit by a pitch with one out. With two outs and Strosnider running, Whipkey drilled a double to left-center to make it 2-0.

Tuscarora cut the margin to 2-1 on Peshke’s RBI single to right, but the Colonels pushed the margin back to two runs in the fifth. With Cowen relieving Marshall, Omps opened the inning with a bunt single, diving into first to barely beat the throw. After being sacrificed to second and swiping third, Omps trotted home on Strosnider’s double to deep left.

“This is a brotherhood,” Omps said of the Colonels’ scrappy nature. “We all come together and we fight each and every day.”

While the Colonels came up short of their yearly goal of making the state finals, Pullen saw the season as a “huge success for our program.”

He’ll face the challenge of replacing 11 seniors on the roster, including Omps, Copenhaver and Strosnider, who have been a big part of state runs, and McAlexander, the district’s Co-Player of the Year.

“They’ve meant the world to me,” Pullen said of the senior class. “Three of them we’ve had for three years. They gave their heart and soul and have done everything I’ve ever asked — on the field and off the field. They’ve become fine young men.”

Omps, who will play at Shenandoah University, says his classmates are special.

“I’ve played with them since I was eight years old,” Omps said. “I’m going to miss them so much. All of the memories I have with them, they are just a great group of guys.”

Because he's staying in town to play college baseball, Omps is looking forward to witnessing what the remaining Colonels can achieve. “I plan on coming and watching the games next year and see how they play,” he said.

— Contact Walt Moody at

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