Warriors beat Royals, seize district lead
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
May 15, 2013, 15:17
CHESTERFIELD – The Matoaca High School baseball team took the field for a Central District showdown with visiting Prince George on Tuesday donning black jerseys, white pants and camouflage hats emblazoned with the school’s logo.
The mismatched headwear was a late-season surprise from Warriors coach Fred Stoots, who presented the hats to the team before a clash with Colonial Heights on May 1. “It’s just a little pizzazz,” said Matoaca pitcher Rick Spiers.
The Warriors haven’t lost since making the idiosyncratic wardrobe change, though the team’s steady rise through the district standings seems to contradict the very purpose of camouflage: Instead of blending in, Spiers and his teammates are playing like standouts.
Anchored by a five-hit gem from its right-handed ace, Matoaca toppled Prince George 5-1, prying the district’s No. 1 seed from the Royals’ hands with one game remaining and muddling an already convoluted playoff picture.
Matoaca junior Rick Spiers celebrates his complete-game victory over Prince George on Tuesday in Chesterfield (photo by David Breidenbach).
Spiers – who was aided by a trio of timely double plays – struck out four, avenged his only loss of the season and picked up his seventh win in eight decisions.
“I just trusted my defense to do their jobs,” said Spiers, a junior. “And I tried to do mine.”
But the Warriors are not out of the woods yet.
With the victory, Matoaca (11-2) took a half-game lead over Prince George (11-3) and a full-game lead over Thomas Dale (10-3) in the district standings. Matoaca and Thomas Dale will meet on Wednesday in the finale of a parity-filled district season. If Matoaca wins, the Warriors will claim the regular-season title outright. If Thomas Dale prevails, a three-way tie for first place will ensue.
Tuesday’s win was the seventh on the trot for the Warriors, the loss the second in as many games for the Royals.
“I thought we played really well,” Stoots said. “The kids have been playing great lately. They’ve been listening to what we’re trying to do and playing hard. They give us everything they have.”
Stoots said his team possesses a quality more commonly trumpeted by football coaches – physicality. “They’re aggressive on the bases, at the plate and fielding ground balls,” the veteran coach said.
It was that assertiveness that kept Prince George off the scoreboard until the fifth inning. Prince George sophomores Jordan Nase and Montae Bradshaw led off the first frame with back-to-back singles, but Matoaca shortstop Craig Johnson turned an unassisted double play to quell the threat.
Another double play stymied the Royals in the second inning and a third thwarted any chance of a last-ditch rally in the seventh.
The Warriors opened the scoring in the bottom of the second when Jacob Bartlett tattooed an RBI triple to straight-away center field. Bartlett – who went 2-for-3 with two extra-base hits – scored on Nathan Perkinson’s RBI groundout in the next at-bat to give the Warriors a 2-0 lead.
That would be all the run support Spiers needed. “I can’t say enough about him,” Stoots said of Spiers. “He gives us a chance to win whenever he pitches. He’s a competitor.”
Prince George halved the deficit in the fifth inning following a stand-up double from pitcher Cody Casey. The right-handed senior advanced to third base on a pair of past balls and scored on Travis Wyatt’s infield single to make the score 2-1.
But the Warriors put the game out of reach with three runs in the sixth, all of which were made possible by infield errors.
In addition to going 2-for-3 at the plate, Casey struck out five and limited the Warriors to two earned runs but still absorbed his first pitching loss of the season in district play.
Matoaca second baseman Phillip Van Keuren finished 3-for-4 with an RBI.
“It all goes back to having fun playing the game,” Stoots said. “In this game, you only get a few short minutes to play. Now that they’re having fun and getting after it, we’re winning some baseball games. Hopefully we can keep doing that.
“Obviously if we win one more, we’ll be pretty happy with ourselves.”
Regardless of Wednesday’s results, the four qualifying teams for next week’s district tournament are already set. Dinwiddie clinched the No. 4 seed with a win over Hopewell on Tuesday. Colonial Heights finished in fifth place.
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Casey and Rotzoll; Spiers and Grant. W: Spiers. L: Casey. Highlights: Van Keuren (M) 3-4, RBI; Bartlett (M) 2-3, 2 runs, 3B, 2B, RBI; C. Casey (PG) 2-3, run. Records: Prince George 15-5 (11-3 Central); Matoaca 11-5 (11-2).