Thomas Dale, Varina fit to be tied in opener
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Mar 15, 2013, 16:41
Thomas Dale junior Collin Fleischer (5) slides safely into home plate against Varina on Thursday. Fleischer pitched four and one-thirds innings, hit two doubles and drove in two runs in the 5-5 tie (photo by David Breidenbach).
CHESTER – As Joe Petree made his way from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box, Thomas Dale baseball coach Chris Marshall urged his catcher to “be a senior leader.”
Petree grounded into an inning-ending fielder’s choice in that at-bat, which came in the third frame of a non-district game against visiting Varina on Thursday. But the second-year varsity player heeded his seventh-year skipper’s advice just in time to keep the Knights out of the loss column in their season opener.
With Thomas Dale trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh, Petree smashed a last-gasp double to center field that moved Tommy Barron to third. Barron scored on a throwing error two batters later to put the home team back on level terms.
Because of dwindling daylight, extra innings were foregone and the game ended in a 5-5 tie — a rare result in baseball at any level.
Thomas Dale shortstop Nathan Eaton prepares to throw to first base after making a play in the Knights’ season opener against Varina on Thursday in Chester (photo by David Breidenbach).
“Nobody likes to tie,” Marshall said. “But I’ll take a tie over a loss.”
The Knights outhit their guests 9-5 but stranded a total of 11 baserunners, at least one in every inning.
“We left a lot of guys on,” Marshall said. “We tried to focus on hitting line drives instead of popping up trying to hit it out of the park. We were trying to get that big play instead of just hitting a line-drive single, which would’ve done the job.”
The Blue Devils opened the scoring in the first inning when Darian Carpenter plated Kyle Gorman with an RBI groundout. The subsequent 1-0 scoreline persisted until the Knights cycled back to the top half of their batting order.
Thomas Dale junior Collin Fleischer – who went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBI – deposited the first pitch of his second at-bat into deep center field in the third inning, scoring Brian Goodwyn and restoring the deadlock.
Fleischer, who started at pitcher for Thomas Dale, helped his own cause by scoring on a sacrifice fly from Cody Boydston to give the Knights their first lead at 2-1.
That gap grew to 4-1 in the fourth when Nathan Eaton and Fleischer drove in Neal Clark and Goodwyn, respectively. Marshall said the three-run cushion gave him a false sense of security.
“To be honest with you, I thought once we got up 4-1 that we would continue to take good swings,” Marshall said. “I thought we’d kind of pull away, but we didn’t. I give credit to Varina. We let them hang around, and they almost beat us.”
Fleischer’s pitching debut produced four strikeouts and ended after four and one-thirds innings when the Virginia Military Institute commit walked three consecutive batters. Eaton came on in relief and inherited a bases-loaded, one-out jam.
Whereas the Knights’ lead was the culmination of several innings of painstaking labor, the Blue Devils tied the game with a single swing of Eli Matthews’ bat. Varina’s clean-up hitter – the first to face Eaton – emptied the bases with a three-run double down the third-base line to knot the score at 4-4.
Varina took the lead in the top half of the final frame with a well-executed squeeze play. With Michael Props on third, pinch hitter Troy Fiorillo laid an inch-perfect bunt down the first-base line. Props beat the ensuing throw home to put the Blue Devils out front for the first time since the third inning.
Eaton managed to escape the inning without conceding another run, and the Knights’ bleak outlook brightened a bit when Barron reached base with a four-pitch walk.
Cue Petree’s two-strike double, which barely cleared the glove of Varina’s backpedaling center fielder.
“When I was running, I saw him start to back up,” Petree said. “That made me a little weary, but it turned out in our favor.”
Thomas Dale center fielder Maurice Gothe finished 2-for-3 while Matthews paced Varina with a 2-for-4 showing that included two doubles.
Marshall said he was pleased with his team’s never-say-die attitude. “There’s no doubt that these kids have fight,” he said.
The Knights fell short of qualifying for last year’s Central District tournament by one game, a shortcoming that Marshall said is still fresh on the team’s mind. The aim for this year’s squad is to improve upon that fifth-place finish.
“That hurt a lot,” Petree said of missing the playoffs. “The team last year was pretty relaxed. We weren’t really serious about it, but this year we’re a lot more focus. We come out here and work like crazy, and it’s going to show.”