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May 6, 2013

Central Region Week in Review: May 6, 2013

Lots of games to cover this week, including a #1 vs. #2 battle, so let's get right to it . . .

James River 9, Midlothian 1: This game was actually close for a while. The Trojans led 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth, when the Rapids put together a four-run rally. James River followed that with a five-run sixth, putting the game far out of reach. Austin McClellan threw five innings, striking out five, as the Rapids surrendered only one hit in the game, off the bat of Midlothian's Matt Miller. Mac Caples led the Rapids at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a double, 2 RBI, and a stolen base.

Dinwiddie 8, Meadowbrook 0: Jamar Hinton was 3-for-3 with 2 RBI as the Generals knocked off Meadowbrook. Jordan Claytor threw six shutout innings for Dinwiddie, picking up the victory. The Generals only gave up three hits, and two of those came from Tae Berry, who singled twice.

Manchester 5, Clover Hill 1: Tyler Rankin slammed two home runs and totaled 4 RBI, while Nick Butts tossed a five-hitter as Manchester picked up another Dominion District win. Rankin's three-run blast in the sixth broke open a 2-1 game, and Butts too care of the rest. The Cavaliers' Matt Piazza was 1-for-3 with an RBI, and Ryu Yano was 2-for-3.

Deep Run 13, Thomas Jefferson 3: Jack Click went 3-for-4 as Deep Run banged out 13 runs on 12 hits to top Thomas Jefferson in Colonial District play. Mark McCray and Drew Scott added a pair of hits each for the Wildcats. After Deep Run scored five in the bottom of the first, TJ rallied for three runs before the Wildcats pulled away in the fourth and fifth.

Mills Godwin 2, Patrick Henry 1: Aaron McGarity out-dueled Travis Powers as the Eagles scored a critical victory over Patrick Henry. McGarity struck out eleven and walked none, giving up just three hits in his complete-game win. Will Black had both of the Godwin RBI, one in the bottom of the third, and one on a fifth-inning sacrifice fly. Joe Bugas of PH was 1-for-3 and scored the Patrick Henry run. Godwin added a 12-2 victory over TJ later in the week.

Varina 4, Henrico 3: Henrico led 3-1 early, but the Blue Devils rallied back for another Capital District victory in what has been a surprising season. Cole Dunkum earned the win on the mound for the Blue Devils after relieving starter Michael Props in the second inning. Chris Griffin doubled, singled, and drove in a run for the Warriors.

Lee-Davis 4, Atlee 0: The Confederates amazingly used six different pitchers to keep Atlee off-balance and hold the Raiders to a mere four hits. The shutout victory gave Atlee a third district loss, meaning that Hanover (which pounded Henrico 15-0 on Friday) now has a two-game lead in the loss column in the Capital race. Offensively, Andrew Sargent led Lee-Davis with 2 RBI. Atlee would get back on the winning track Friday with an 11-0 win over Highland Springs.

J. R. Tucker 5, Hermitage 1: Temple Derico topped C. J. Hutchison as the Tigers won an important Colonial District game. Derico allowed one run on four hits in the victory. Austin Reid had a two-run double that helped Tucker forge a 5-0 lead. Luke Nigro and Jacob Hancock had two hits each for the Panthers.

Benedictine 4, Prince George 0: After struggling against Central Region opposition this year, the Cadets marked the winning side of the ledger for the first time by avenging an earlier loss to Prince George. Drew Bond shut down the Royals with a one-hitter, also going 1-for-3 with an RBI. The one Prince George hit came from Montae Bradshaw. Benedictine was also perfect in the field, while the Royals committed three errors. All four of the Cadet runs came during a fourth-inning rally. Prince George bounced back later in the week with a 15-2 win over Meadowbrook.

Thomas Dale 8, Hopewell 2: Collin Fleischer and Joe Petree hit home runs and Nathan Eaton was 3-for-3 with a double as Thomas Dale pushed past Central District rival Hopewell by six runs. Fleischer also earned the pitching victory. On the Hopewell side, Zack Rivera and Trent Scott each had an RBI.

Thomas Dale 13, Dinwiddie 1 (5 innings): Neal Clark drove in seven runs and hit two homers (including a grand slam) to lead Thomas Dale to a lopsided victory over Dinwiddie in the Central District. Tommy Barron held the Generals to one run on three hits in the five-inning game. He was also 2-for-3 with a double. Jamar Hinton drove in the run for Dinwiddie.

Varina 12, Highland Springs 4: Varina used a seven-run fourth inning to break a 3-3 tie and power past Highland Springs. Michael Props was 3-for-3 with a double, 2 RBI, 4 runs, and 3 stolen bases, while Darian Carpenter added a double, a homer, and 4 RBI. Ryan Scott and Jalen Carter were each 2-for-4 for Highland Springs.

Clover Hill 3, James River 2: The Rapids led 2-0 going to the bottom of the seventh after Jack Roberts threw six shutout innings and struck out 11. However, the Cavaliers rallied for a stunning victory behind a two-run hit from Brett Jones, shocking the Rapids and complicating the Dominion District title race for James River. Ryu Yano was 1-for-3 and scored a run in that seventh inning. Those two hits by Yano and Jones were the only ones the Cavs had in the game.

Matoaca 12, Petersburg 2 (6 innings): In a game that was 3-2 going to the bottom of the fifth, the Warriors used a three-run inning and a six-run inning to put the contest on ice. Jacob Barlett led Matoaca with a 3-for-4 day at the plate, while Corey Shornak was 2-for-2. Petersburg's William Peterson had the lone hit for the Crimson Wave.

L. C. Bird 5, Midlothian 4 (11 innings): After a fourth inning that saw the Trojans score four and the Skyhawks score three to tie it, there were no more runs inthis game until Logan Mills delivered a game-winning single in the bottom of the eleventh. Mills also earned the win on the mound. David Hairfield paced the Skyhawks with a 3-for-4 game, and Bryce Harmon added two hits. Midlothian's Wade Yeary was 1-for-3 and drove in a run.

Cosby 11, Manchester 0 (5 innings): Cosby used two big innings, including an eight-run fourth, to continue its recent hot streak. Hunter Williams drove in four runs and struck out seven in the five-inning shutout. He gave up just four hits, two of which came from the Lancers' Tyler Rankin. Cosby's Bradley McKay added a 2-for-3, 2-RBI game.

J. R. Tucker 4, Deep Run 3: Chase McPherson went the distance, scattering five hits as the Tigers edged rival Deep Run by one. Randy Neisz was 2-for-3 and scored three of the Tucker runs, while Jesse Blaha added a 2-for-3 game. Deep Run's Jack Click was 2-for-3 with a double.

Cosby 4, L. C. Bird 1: The Titans got all four runs in the third inning, keyed by a three-run homer from Hunter Williams, as Cosby continued to pile up victories in pursuit of James River. Ryan Hall added a 3-for-3 game that included a double. On the Skyhawk side, David Hairfield and Logan Mills were each 2-for-3. Bird rallied for a run in the top of the seventh, but Ryan Bickford closed it out to preserve the victory.

Lee-Davis 11, Varina 7: The Confederates held on to take a slugfest victory over a hot Varina team. The Blue Devils led 3-0 early, but Lee-Davis rallied to take a 5-3 lead after one inning. It was back-and-forth from there, with the Confederates finishing with 11 runs on 13 hits and Varina tallying 7 runs on 10 hits. Justin Sorokowski led Lee-Davis with a 4-for-4, 2-RBI, 4-run game. Evan Hockensmith added a 2-for-3, 2-RBI night that included a double. Varina's Gray Marshall was 2-for-4 with a pair of stolen bases.

Douglas Freeman 7, James River 6 (10 innings): I recapped this one here, but the short version is that Miller Trevvett threw six innings in relief for the Rebels, and Freeman rallied for three runs in the bottom of the tenth to take a victory in a #1 vs. #2 match-up. I also have a link there to four minutes of highlights, including a monster home run by Mac Caples that really needs to be seen.

Here's my new Top Ten (through games of 5/3):

The New Central Region Top Ten: (Last Week)

1. Douglas Freeman (14-1) . . . . . . . 2

2. Hanover (12-2) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

3. James River (13-3) . . . . . . . . . . 1

4. Cosby (10-3) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

5. Prince George (14-3) . . . . . . . . . 4

6. Atlee (12-3) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

7. Mills Godwin (10-4) . . . . . . . . . . 8

8. Patrick Henry (9-4) . . . . . . . . . 7

9. Thomas Dale (9-3-1) . . . . . . . NR

10. Manchester (9-7) . . . . . . . . . . 9

Dropped Out: #10 Dinwiddie (10-6)

- - - - -

And, finally, here are some "Thoughts and Observations"

- One of the neat things about the Freeman / James River game was how all of the other teams at Freeman who had finished playing (or returned to the school after finishing playing elsewhere) stayed at watched the latter portion of the contest. So, by the tenth inning, you had the JV baseball team, the softball team, and the boys and girls lacrosse teams all sitting and cheering on the Rebels. It was great to see that kind of school spirit.

- Another week, another Top Ten reshuffle. Freeman is unquestionably #1 after topping James River in extra innings. It isn't that the Rebels are definitively the best team, it's that they're definitively playing the best. They're the only team that has just one loss, and one of only two teams that has fewer than three losses. They've also beaten a host of quality squads, including Benedictine (handily), James River, Godwin, and Lee-Davis. Not to mention getting lopsided wins over solid teams like Hermitage (two wins by a combined 20-3 score). The funny thing is, Freeman is still a team that has a primarily-underclass lineup. There are a few seniors scattered throughout the roster, but you can make a pretty good argument that nearly all of the Rebels' best players are sophomores and juniors. Food for thought.

- Anyway, back to the Top Ten. Hanover moves up to #2, while the Rapids slipped to #3 after losing two one-run heartbreakers. Cosby is up to #4 and absolutely red hot since being slaughtered by James River a couple of weeks back. Prince George fell one spot, Atlee stayed put at #6, Godwin and Patrick Henry flip-flopped after the Eagles edged the Patriots 2-1. Dinwiddie fell out after being pounded by Thomas Dale, and the Knights join the rankings for the first time this year. They check in at #8. Manchester fell to #10 and barely stayed in the Top Ten. Strength of schedule is a major consideration there.

- Speaking of the Dominion District, I can't figure out Clover Hill. They're on fire, they pound Matoaca and Bird, they upend Cosby, then they're in the Top Ten. Once there, they really struggle, getting blown out by Monacan and Manchester, then they drop out. Now unranked, they find a way to steal one from James River. Between Clover Hill, L. C. Bird, Manchester, and Midlothian, I'm guessing there won't be any easy outs in the Dominion District tournament, no matter what the match-ups are.

- District race updates: The Capital is Hanover's to lose now that Atlee has three district losses, but the interesting thing will be who gets the fourth playoff spot. Glen Allen has to be sweating with the rise of Varina. Prince George leads the Central, but Thomas Dale is quietly just a game back in the loss column. It would be nearly impossible for anyone else to factor in with two weeks left, barring a bunch of upsets. Freeman is now a game clear in the Colonial, but still has a rematch with Godwin coming up. The Dominion is a potential mess after James River lost to Clover Hill. Odds are the winner of the James River / Cosby rematch still takes the crown, which pretty much puts us back where we started in March.

- - -

This week's look back at Central Region baseball history turns back the clock to a team that is among the truly great squads to come out of the Central Region: The 1994 Clover Hill Cavaliers.

The Dominion hadn't produced a state champion since moving up from Group AA en masse, but did have two regional champions: Monacan (albeit an old Central District team) in 1989 and Midlothian in 1991. Both made early exits from the state tournament. The closest to a AAA title the district had come was Mills Godwin in 1987. Godwin, which had played in the Dominion District during its Group AA days, moved over to the Colonial upon reaching AAA, of course.

1994 would be a different story.

A tough, regional semi-final loss to Mills Godwin laid the groundwork for the '94 Clover Hill season. The Eagles topped the Cavaliers 4-3 in a game in which Clover Hill gave up only two hits, but also committed three errors. That bitter loss to eventual regional champion Godwin would motivate the Cavaliers throughout much of the '94 campaign.

The lineup was stocked with heavy-hitters, including catcher Fred Stoots, first baseman Jake Anthony, second baseman Ben Bradford, outfielders Chris Creswell and football standout Troy Lastrapes, third baseman Brad Simpson, and designated hitter Mark Griffith. They combined to form one of the better lineups in the history of the region. The pitching staff, while very good, wasn't quite at that level, but did feature ace righty Robbie Preston. There wasn't much question as to whether Clover Hill would have a good team that year, only how good it would be.

It turned out the answer was: Incredibly good.

Coach Tim Lowery's group ran roughshod over the Dominion District, as well as over the rest of the teams on its regular-season schedule. The only blemish on the ledger was a loss to Essex and its ace Andy Lankford, who shut out Clover Hill. That aside, the Cavs were dominant.

After winning both the regular-season and tournament titles in the Dominion, Clover Hill carried a 20-1 record in to the regional tournament. More to the point, the Cavaliers had outscored their opponents by a remarkable 224-35 margin. They also hit an unthinkable .399 as a team during the regular season.

Still, there were skeptics. After all, Midlothian had just produced a dominant team two years earlier that wound up getting bounced from the regional semi-finals in a lopsided game (after almost losing in the quarter-finals). That squad was 22-0 and had only allowed 20 runs up to that point, yet still lost decisively to Godwin. So, some thought that maybe the Dominion (unlike now) was a weaker league that couldn't hold up under the bright lights of the regional or state tournaments. After all, how good could the competition be if your team hit nearly .400?

Clover Hill began its quest to erase those doubts by knocking off an unheralded Highland Springs team 9-6. The Cavs banged out 17 hits to the Springers' five. However, the Springers carried a mere 8-9 record into that contest, and had the tying run at the plate in the seventh.

But none of that mattered: Clover Hill had won the game, and the next opponent would be Mills Godwin.

The Cavaliers took out a year of frustration on the Eagles. Clover Hill left no doubt, jumping all over Godwin. The Cavs scored two in the first inning, then added five more in the second, a run in the third, and three more in the fourth. The turning point (or perhaps breaking point) was a bases-loaded double by Creswell in that big second inning. Brian Keith tossed a four-hitter, allowing the two Godwin runs in the seventh with the game long-since decided.

Their ticket to the state tournament punched, there was still the matter of the Central Region title. Clover Hill would see a familiar foe in the championship game: L. C. Bird, who would make for the first all-Dominion final in Central Region baseball history.

Bird carried a modest 12-8 record into the regional tournament, but two wins over good Lee-Davis and Dinwiddie teams had gotten the Skyhawks into the finals. Having already faced Clover Hill three times, there was a familiarity component to the game as well.

No matter. The Cavaliers won convincingly. Preston upped his record to 9-1 with a five-hitter, striking out eight. The Cavs led 2-0 early, but Bird tied the game in the third when Preston walked three batters in a row, then hit the Skyhawks' Shawn Wall two batters later to make it 2-1. Chris Nevel then singled in another to tie it, but Clover Hill went right back to work after that.

Right fielder Jason Putney was 2-for-3 with 2 RBI, and Anthony also drove in two runs. Bradford and Lastrapes each stole two bases. The Cavaliers scored at least one run in all but one of their at-bats, cruising to a 7-2 victory to clinch their first Central Region championship.

The Cavaliers carried a 20-game winning streak into the state quarter-finals against Eastern Region runner-up Western Branch. Featuring hard-throwing lefty Jimmy Anderson, the Bruins looked to top the team that was now ranked in the USA Today national Top 10.

It wasn't to be. Anderson impressively struck out 14 and only allowed three hits (with four walks), but he also suffered his first loss of the season as Clover Hill prevailed 6-2. Some timely walks and a key first-inning error helped the Cavaliers that day, but a late, two-run single by Griffith sealed Western Branch's fate. Preston also allowed just three hits and four walks, striking out 10, but his teammates played flawless defense as he improved to 10-1.

Just a game away from the state final, Clover Hill moved on to play Eastern champ First Colonial. This was the same team that had beaten Godwin 1-0 in the semi-finals the year earlier, en route to the Group AAA championship. The Patriots were coming off a 5-4 win over Bird. Although FC had lost seven times during the year, they were a battle-tested bunch who had that championship mentality.

The semi-final was something of a re-run of the quarter-final: The Cavaliers, who had been so explosive during the season, again struggled against a good pitcher. But Robbie Preston was up to the challenge.

It was 0-0 going to the seventh as Preston and Jamie Booth looked almost untouchable. Clover Hill had run into trouble in the sixth when Bradford committed a pair of errors that gave FC runners at the corners with one out. Putney saved the day by catching a shallow fly ball for the second out, then gunning down David Winter as he tried to tag up and score from third. In that seventh inning, with Booth out of the game and Steve Johnson in, Bradford found redemption by executing a perfect suicide squeeze with one out. That scored Lastrapes to put Clover Hill into its first-ever Group AAA final. Lastrapes himself had reached via a bunt single.

Preston threw his second complete game of the state tournament, holding First Colonial to two hits in the shutout victory. Booth gave the Cavs fits, however, and he surrendered just three hits in six innings of work.

Clover Hill would face yet another in a parade of top-tier lefties, as Northern Region champion West Potomac sent Bobby Willner to the mound. He would be the third southpaw the Cavs had faced in the state tournament. Robbie Preston would take the hill for the third time as well. Coach Lowery was so concerned about his team's offensive struggles, which included a mere seven hits in two games of the state tournament, that he purchased a large, inflatable bat and convinced his team that it was a "gift" from West Potomac (he revealed to his team on the bus ride home that it was a gag, much to their collective delight).

In the state final, the Wolverines got on the board in the top of the first on an RBI single by Willner himself. Once again, the Cavs struggled at the plate, spending the next five innings at Willner's mercy. Although Preston had settled into a nice groove, it looked as though Clover Hill might lose a 1-0 game to end its season.

All of that changed in the sixth. Suddenly, Willner seemed human, and the Cavaliers came to life just a few outs from elimination. Bradford led things off with a walk and a steal. Then Anthony doubled to score Bradford and tie the game. Stoots then singled, scoring Anthony. A single by Simpson, a two-run double from Griffith, and an RBI single by Lastrapes gave the Cavs the huge inning for which they had longed.

Preston took care of business in the top of the seventh, and Clover Hill had its second state baseball title, and first-ever crown in Group AAA (Clover Hill had won the Group A title in 1978). The Cavaliers finished with a sterling 26-1 record, ending the season with a 23-game winning streak. They were also the first Dominion District team to win a AAA title.

For a team perhaps known best for its hitting, the Cavs' season came down to three great games from Robbie Preston. In addition to the two other complete games he threw, he allowed just one run on five hits while striking out five in the state title game. He wasn't always overpowering (the Wolverines left 10 men on base in the game), but he was effective and poised, allowing him to get out of jams when necessary.

As a footnote to this story, Clover Hill appeared poised to make another run at a state crown in 1995. After all, nearly their entire lineup returned intact: Anthony, Bradford, Stoots, Simpson, Lastrapes, Creswell, Putney, shortstop Wes Barrow, and Keith, the #2 starter, were underclassmen on the state title team. But Preston was gone. And, while the senior-heavy 1995 team had a solid season, it didn't make it back to the state tournament.

Yet, that 1994 squad was something special. Those Cavaliers will long be remembered as not only one of the top Central Region teams ever, but one of the better baseball teams in the history of the state.

It should be another great season in the Central Region, and stay tuned to VirginiaPreps.com for all the latest news, information, and profiles you need to stay plugged in to Central Virginia baseball! You can connect with Tom on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/CRTomGarrett and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CentralRegionTom

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