NR loses heartbreaker in state baseball semifinals

Published 4:50 pm Friday, June 10, 2022

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By Matthew Hatfield

Contributing Writer

Nansemond River High School’s baseball team made the four-hour trip to Riverside High School in Leesburg to compete in a morning semifinal matchup against Region 5C champion Glen Allen on Friday morning. At stake was a spot in the VHSL Class 5 state baseball championship game, but the Warriors lost a 3-2 heartbreaker in extra innings.

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Through four innings, the prospects of making it to the title game on Saturday looked mighty good for the Warriors, who were in command with a 2-0 lead. However, Glen Allen had other ideas.

The Jaguars would come up big with a two-run home run in the fifth inning from Mitchell Bayles to tie the game, then in extra innings delivered an even bigger blow courtesy of a walk-off blast over the right centerfield wall from James Madison University commit Jaden Kinsler. That shot defeated a heartbroken Warriors bunch 3-2.

“When you’ve got two good teams going at it like that, it comes down to one swing of the bat sometimes. We had some situations when we had runners in scoring position where we laced the ball. It was just right at people,” said Nansemond River head baseball coach Mark Stuffel.

“That was just a well-played baseball game on both sides.  We just happened to come out on the bottom because they had two really good swings.”

This marked the second time in the state tournament that Glen Allen rallied for victory as it scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to edge Independence 4-3 in the quarterfinals.

Nansemond River reached the semis itself by erasing a 4-0 deficit against Southeastern District rival Hickory in the quarters, erupting for 11 runs in the eighth inning in a 17-9 triumph over the Hawks.  In that game, the Warriors collected 17 hits.

It didn’t take long for Nansemond River to do damage in the semis. Batting in the No. 2 hole, Stuffel’s son, Ayden, gave the Warriors a lead in the first inning with a home run over the rightfield wall on the first pitch of his at-bat.

“I thought we got off to a good start,” Coach Stuffel said. “Honestly, the Hickory game I felt like we swung it really well, too. We just hit it at people more often early in the game. We just had the big inning where we didn’t hit it to anybody, which was nice.”

The Warriors made Glen Allen right-hander Taylor Catlett use 21 pitches to get out of the first inning, but he made quick work of Nansemond River’s bats in the second and third innings, using only 13 pitches to get his next six outs. Yet in the fourth inning, senior catcher Chase Magrisi followed up consecutive singles from first baseman Grayson Fitzwater and junior outfielder Sylvester Clarke with an RBI double to leftfield.

From there, the Warriors bats were kept relatively in check.  They finished with six hits and left seven men on base. On 88 pitches, junior right-hander Thomas Wolfe struck out four batters and allowed four hits while issuing only one walk, even coming up with a nifty diving catch on a bunt attempt in the fifth inning.

Ayden Stuffel came on to relieve him in the seventh inning, wiggling out of a jam with two base runners aboard and no outs to extend the contest.

“Thomas pitched really well today and Ayden threw the ball well. That kid just put a great swing on it to end it,” added Coach Stuffel, whose squad scored in double-figures nine different times during the season.

“We put together a really tough schedule for the season and they battled every single game. This was a phenomenal group of young men and baseball players. I’m just extremely proud of these guys. For them to get us this far, that really is a task in itself.”

The Warriors finished the season – Mark Stuffel’s 22nd and final one at the helm – with an 18-7 overall record. They will say goodbye to eight seniors, some of whom are heading on to the next level to play baseball. That includes Ayden Stuffel at Christopher Newport University, shortstop Clay Grady at Virginia Tech and first baseman Grayson Fitzwater at Virginia Military Institute.

“This was a fun-loving group that enjoyed playing baseball and being around each other. It was an awesome group to be around. For it to be my last group, it’s definitely a good one to go out on.” Stuffel said.