On Friday in Lynchburg, it was pitching, defense, and even some insurance runs, all coming together for the benefit of the Hanover Hawks.
The Hawks won their 20th game of 2014, pulling away late with three insurance runs in the sixth inning to break open a close game, and break the spirit of 4A North runner-up Sherando, defeating the Warriors 6-2 in a 4A State Semifinal at Liberty University.
Grey Lyttle, starting his fourth postseason game in the Hawks' last five, allowed two runs and five hits over 4 1/3 innings for the win. Lyttle struck out five, leaving the game with two aboard in the top of the fifth. Those two runners accounted for the Warriors' only runs on the afternoon when Hayden Fox lined a single into center to score Zach Henke and Reid Entsminger.
The Warriors left six runners stranded in the first four innings, two more in the fifth for a total of eight.
Hanover struck first in the third inning. Anthony Zona singled, but was forced out on a fielders choice from Brady Didlake, who reached first. Taylor McDougal ran for Didlake, advancing to second on a passed ball by Sherando catcher Chase Smallwood. He advanced to third when Josh Shepherd slapped an infield single towards short to put runners at the corners with two down.
With Cayman Richardson at the plate, Shepherd took off to steal second. The throw from the catcher was cut off by pitcher Adam Whitacre, catching Shepherd in a rundown. But it gave time for McDougal to score from third. Shepherd's slide went underneath the tag attempt of Connor Stevenson at first, continuing the inning, but Shepherd would later commit the third out again attempting to steal second base.
"We ran aggressively today, but not aggressively and smart," said Hanover head coach Charlie Dragum. "It's something we've been working on 30-40 minutes every practice: baserunning. There's no more time to practice now. We've got to be smarter."
In the fourth, Richardson reached on a ball that caromed off Henke's glove at shortstop, ruled a base hit. After being sacrificed to second, two batters later, Trevor Denton hit a single to right to score Richardson, whose graceful slide included his left hand going right underneath the catcher. Eliott Sledd singled next, scoring John Gregory, who had walked just before Denton's hit, making it 3-0 Hawks.
A defensive play and a break on the basepaths, both worked to break the back of Sherando. In the third inning with runners at first and second for the Warriors, Entsminger grounded to Richardson at short, who threw to Shepherd at second for the force play. Shepherd then faked the throw to first for the possible double play (it would not have been in time to get the runner), then fired over to third, where Denton tagged out Henke for the final out of that inning.
Then, in the sixth, Gregory was hit by a pitch, Denton laid down a perfect bunt towards first base for an infield single. Sledd next bunted for a sacrifice, but the throw by Whitacre to third for the force was late, loading the bases. Zona launched a fly ball to deep right caught on a run by Fox, the sacrifice fly allowing Gregory to score for a 4-2 game.
Jakob Pridemore bunted, and there was no play available for the Warrior defense. The bases again were loaded for Didlake. On the first pitch to him, Sherando caught Denton in a rundown between third base and home plate. Before he reached the plate, the home plate umpire ruled Denton was tagged out by Smallwood. But later discussion amongst the officials led to overturning the call, as the new pitcher, Ty Michaud, committed interference on the path near home plate, slowing Denton down to the benefit of Smallwood.
Sherando head coach Pepper Martin pleaded his case. Smallwood had to take Michaud away from the umpire. It was the final straw for the Warriors. Michaud later hit Richardson with a pitch, scoring Sledd with the final run of the game.
The Warriors were retired in order twice, in the 6th and 7th innings, by Trevor Denton, who didn't allow a hit, striking out two to wrap it up.
Hanover now faces 4A North Region champion Millbrook, 10-3 winners Friday morning over Grafton, for the state title Saturday at 1pm. The Hawks have senior ace Derek Casey rested and ready to go. Casey pitched six innings and got the win a year ago when Hanover won the 2013 Group AAA State Championship by defeating Great Bridge.
"Derek is ready. He'll be ready," Dragum said when asked by reporters about his number one starter.
Casey certainly will be a factor. But defense, and better work on the basepaths, will, too, be key, if the Hawks want to bring home their second state title trophy in as many seasons Saturday evening.
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