Warriors beat defending state champ
Published 9:41 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2015
The Nansemond River High School baseball team did not start the 2015 season well, but Wednesday showed it is recovering in a big way with a 5-4 home win against Hanover High School.
Last year, the Warriors only lost three games, and those three games were against the eventual Group 4A, 5A and 6A state champions.
After a 2-3 start this season, Nansemond River topped defending 5A champ Hickory High School on April 2 and beat defending 4A champ Hanover on Wednesday, avenging a narrow 2014 regional semifinal loss to the Hawks on the same field.
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Warriors senior Kieton Rivers, who led his team with two hits on Wednesday, made it clear he was not overestimating the significance of the victory in terms of the season. Rather, he simply noted, “It gives us confidence.”
“The key today was definitely pitching and defense,” Nansemond River coach Mark Stuffel said.
He was very pleased with how his pitchers threw the ball.
With the Warriors playing two more games this weekend, he spread the pitching responsibilities around. Junior Matt Holt pitched the first two innings, senior Ethan Woodruff took the next two, senior Robert Fitzwater threw the two after that and junior Michael Blanchard pitched the seventh inning.
The Hawks scored a run in the first inning but committed errors that allowed the Warriors to score some early runs in response.
Nansemond River was enjoying a 4-1 lead in the top of the sixth when Stuffel said Fitzwater was struggling with his mechanics. Hanover scored three runs to tie the game up.
But Stuffel said a little light came on offensively in his team’s April 2 game against the Hickory Hawks, meaning the Warriors had found what they needed to shake off the offensive dry spell that dominated their 2015 start.
Even after Hanover’s comeback, “I felt like the guys were going to get it done today,” Stuffel said.
Rivers said the win came due to pitching, great defense and “a great job of swinging the bat.”
With the score tied 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth, NR senior Corbin Townsend was walked, then replaced as a runner by junior Nick Lees. Junior Dion Jordan was later walked, as well.
With Lees on third, junior Johnny Mayer bunted.
The Hanover defender who ran to get the ball paused, deciding whether he should throw the ball to home, but ultimately decided getting the out at first base was the better option.
Mayer ended up successfully reaching first a moment after Lees scored the go-ahead run.
“He just ran it very well,” Stuffel said of Lees.
Michael Blanchard helped bring about a quick end to the game by opening up the top of the seventh with two strikeouts. He earned the save, while Fitzwater earned the win.
Among Nansemond River’s other offensive contributors, junior Corey Fago had a hit and a run batted in, as did Fitzwater, and Rivers also had two runs scored.
While the Warriors struggled early this season, Rivers said, “Now we’re coming together as a team.”
Nansemond River (4-3) visits Kempsville High School on Friday morning at 11 a.m. and hosts Jamestown High School on Saturday at 5 p.m.