Down to the last swing

Published 11:36 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ryan O’Hara (16) is mobbed by his Nansemond River teammates at the plate for his go-ahead two-run home run in the top of the seventh inning at South County in Lorton in Tuesday evening’s VHSL State Tournament quarterfinal. South County scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to win 12-11. The Warriors (20-8) won the Southeastern District Tournament for the first time this season and reached the state tournament for the first time as a Group AAA school.

Undefeated South County edges Warriors 12-11 in state quarters

LORTON — Nansemond River’s first trip into the state baseball tournament in the Group AAA level included great heroics and complete heartbreak, and that was just in the final inning.

The state quarterfinal also put the Warriors up against nationally-ranked and undefeated South County and South County senior pitcher Evan Beal, who earlier on Tuesday was drafted in the eighth round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals.

Two South County runs in the home half of the seventh answered a last-strike, two-run, go-ahead home run by Warrior Ryan O’Hara off of Beal for a 12-11 South County victory.

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Both sides belted three homers in the bandbox park at South County, a field featuring power alleys ranging from 320-335 feet.

Nansemond River (20-8) jumped on the Stallions (27-0) and starting pitcher Tyler Frazier for a 3-0 lead four batters into the game.

Josh Howard and Brandon Lowe singled with one out setting up clean-up hitter Zach Vann. Vann squared to bunt twice and took the pitches before launching a high fly over the 360-foot sign in straightaway center for his first homer of the evening.

The Stallions went one run better just as quickly against Howard on the mound for NR. South County took advantage of two walks, a balk and an errant pickoff throw as part of a four-run rally in the bottom of the first.

Blake Eure’s RBI triple was part of two NR runs in the second and Howard held South County quiet through the second and third frames.

The top of the Warrior order set the table perfectly for Vann again in the fourth, with a walk to Tyler Brown, Howard’s single and a walk to Lowe, all with no outs.

Vann drove another high fly down the rightfield line. The only question was, fair or foul? It was fair for a grand slam and a 9-4 Warrior lead.

With two homers knocking in three of the runs, the Stallions tallied five runs in the bottom of the fourth, tying the game and forcing the Warriors to bring on Brown for Howard in order to get out of the inning.

South County brought Beal on starting the NR fifth and he shut down the Warrior slugging in the next two frames, striking out four while one Stallion error allowed the only Warrior runner on in the two innings.

Senior catcher Mike Perez hit a solo home run leading off the Stallion sixth for a 10-9 South County lead.

Facing a deficit and three outs remaining for the first time in five elimination games throughout the postseason, the Warriors rallied with no pitches left to spare.

Travis Johnson reached on an infield single, a slow chop toward third base with one out. Hayden Champigny flew out to right for the second out.

Beal put O’Hara into an 0-2 count. On the 0-2 pitch, with a large home crowd standing for the presumed last strike, O’Hara sent a drive that carried over the left-centerfield fence for silence, except for the Warrior dugout rushing to the plate to greet O’Hara for his first home run of the season.

“It was just a very good game. Our guys battled to the last out in every game this season,” said Nansemond River head coach Mark Stuffel.

The Warriors got the first out of the Stallion seventh before back-to-back singles and a walk loaded the bases. Perez lined a double into the right-centerfield gap, easily scoring the tying and winning runs.

Perez, who’s going to Old Dominion next year, finished 5-for-5 with two homers, two doubles and five RBI.

South County is ranked in multiple national polls, including a No. 3 ranking according to Beal, a 6-foot-5 righthander, has accepted a scholarship offer from South Carolina and has an exceptional decision to make in the next few weeks whether to join the Gamecocks or the Royals.

It was the last game for four Warrior seniors, Howard, Champigny, Dylan Roach and Will Hunter.

“This team believed they could win it all, so it hurts to lose. Hopefully, and we have a lot of returners coming back, those guys will remember what this feels like and will work hard to win our last game next year,” Stuffel said.