Knocking at the door

Published 8:53 pm Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teammates greet Nansemond River rightfielder Dylan Roach, in the sunglasses, after he made a diving catch on a fly hit deep down the rightfield line to end the fourth inning of Monday night’s Eastern Region Tournament game at Old Dominion. Nansemond River beat Woodside 5-1 to advance to the region’s final four. The Warriors (19-6) meet Churchland Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

Nansemond River Warriors are one step from states

NORFOLK — Nansemond River’s baseball team is one win away from gaining a spot into the state tournament after a 5-1 win over Peninsula District season and tournament champion Woodside in the quarterfinal round of the Eastern Region Tournament Monday night at Old Dominion’s Bud Metheny Complex.

Along with senior Josh Howard’s complete game on the mound and clutch hitting, the Warriors turned in outstanding defensive plays throughout the game. A few of the gems came just in time to erase Wolverine scoring chances that could’ve flipped what was a 2-1 Warrior lead for most of the game.

Nansemond River’s dugout watches and leadoff hitter Tyler Brown stands at the plate for the first pitch of Monday’s Eastern Region Tournament game against Woodside at Old Dominion.

“I’m very proud of the way we played defensively,” said Warrior head coach Mark Stuffel.

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“The guys made plays in tough situations. They made the plays that had to be made and that’s how you win games like this,” Stuffel said.

The Warriors took the lead three batters into the game. Tyler Brown led off by drawing a walk. Howard bunted him over to second. Brandon Lowe followed with a drive into deep right-centerfield for an RBI double.

Woodside answered in the bottom of the first, yet the Warriors ended the frame with momentum on their side.

With a Wolverine on second and two outs, Ryan O’Hara fielded a sharp single into center and fired to the plate on a hop. NR catcher Zach Vann caught O’Hara’s throw and hung on through a hard slide for the third out, leaving a 1-1 score.

“That play really got us pumped up as a team. From there we had lots of confidence we could play with (Woodside),” Howard said.

The Warriors manufactured another run in the second. Travis Johnson doubled and took third thanks to a wild pitch. Hayden Champigny sent a sacrifice fly to deep center for a 2-1 NR lead.

Woodside went on to knock nine hits against Howard, forcing the Warrior defense into pressure moments nearly every inning.

After back-to-back singles starting the Wolverine third, Howard spun and fired to Lowe, at short, for a pickoff play at second for a critical out as the Warriors kept their one-run lead safe.

Rightfielder Dylan Roach made a long run and diving catch deep down the line, on a ball that would’ve been barely fair and likely wound up as a triple, for the last out of the fourth.

An error and single set up a Wolverine threat in the bottom of the fifth. Howard picked a superb time for his only strikeout of the night, for the second out of the frame. An infield pop-up retired the side.

“My change-up was really good and I was able to throw every pitch in every situation, which really helps me,” Howard said.

The nail-biting wasn’t over, though. Woodside’s sixth inning opened with an easy fly in short right-centerfield falling in for a double thanks to miscommunication. A bunt moved the tying runner to third with one out.

Third baseman Blake Eure, already playing on the grass in front of his bag, made a charging play on a high chopper and a strong throw to first for the second out.

The Warriors escaped with Lowe gloving a grounder in the hole to his right followed by another strong throw just in time.

Eure came through at the plate in the ensuing Warrior at-bats. After Johnson singled and O’Hara walked, Eure hit a shot off the glove of a diving shortstop. The ball spun toward the foul line in left. Both runners scored and Eure had a double. Howard singled to drive in Eure for the 5-1 margin.

“We’re hoping to make history for our school. We’re doing it so far but we want to keep going,” Howard said.

The Warriors (19-6) have won seven straight games with the program’s first Southeastern District Tournament title included in the streak.

The regional tournament continues Wednesday evening at ODU. Nansemond River will meet Eastern District champion Churchland (22-1) at 7:30 p.m. in the second semifinal game.