Fleischer's Gem Leads Knights To Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 4, 2014, 08:35
Collin Fleischer delivers this pitch early in the game.
HOPEWELL — Thomas Dale entered the 2014 campaign with high expectations from outside prognosticators and within their own team. Those expecations were not unwarranted either. After all, this is a Knights squad which has an 18-man roster which is made up of experienced juniors and seniors.
In fact, it was just last season that Thomas Dale advanced to the region tournament for the first time since the 2009 season, making their performance Tuesday afternoon against Matoaca so alarming. It wasn't just that the Knights lost, but the way they defeated.
Thomas Dale was completely dominated by the Warriors from the very first inning and even more concerning was the lack of hitting shown from a lineup which was expected to produce from the No. 1 to No. 9 positions. But after a spirited practice Wednesday, the Knights looked to be a different team against Hopewell.
Nathan Eaton reached base on an error to lead-off the game and Brian Goodwyn immediately followed Eaton with a double into the right-centerfield gap which jump-started a two-run inning for the Knights. The inning was just a foreshadowing of what was to unfold in a dominating offensive display as Thomas Dale rolled to a 14-0 victory over Hopewell at Merner Field.
"At practice yesterday, we really just focused on hitting line drives and not trying to lift it to hit the ball out of the park," manager Chris Marshall said after the game. "I told them if they do that, we'd score a lot of runs tonight and they did. They followed through and got it done."
And that would be an understatement.
Thomas Dale's (1-1) hitters had their way with every pitcher Hopewell (2-1) put out on the mound including one of the team's top arms in senior Will Avery. The Knights battered Avery around, knocking him out after just 3.1 innings of work while scoring seven runs against him.
The part of the lineup most responsible for Avery's early departure was the first four hitters in Eaton, Goodwyn, Maurice Gothe and Collin Fleischer. To put it in perspective, while entering the top of the fourth inning, the No. 1 through No. 4 batters had gone a combined 5-for-7 with three RBIs while the bottom six had combined for an 0-for-7 start.
But in order to win consistently this season, the Knights will need production from their entire lineup and not have to rely on just a select few hitters. It's what made the events that unfolded in the top of the 4th inning so encouraging.
Nathan Eaton rounds third on a night he scored all three times he reached base.
Thomas Dale's Taylor Trueheart started the rally by lacing a double into left field and was immediately chased home on a triple by Blake Hartman. Mike Domowicz then drove in Hartman with a sacrifice fly, but the big blow came six batters later as the lineup turned over.
Thomas Dale third baseman Cory Johnston stepped into the batter's box sporting an 0-for-2 day with two strikeouts and immediately found himself in a battle with Hopewell's new pitcher Neeyamyah Nunez. Then, with the count full, Johnston uncorked on a Nunez offering, skying it high over the left field fence for a three-run home run. It's the type of production which can make the Knights a dangerous team to face.
"To beat good teams, we are going to have to have all of our guys hitting," Marshall explained of the offense. "We can't have just two guys hitting. Everybody hit it tonight, so hopefully we can build on this."
One player who will specifically want to carry the momentum over into the rest of the season is Goodwyn. The Knights' second baseman, along with Eaton at the top of the lineup, were able to routinely reach base, scoring a combined six times in six plate appearances.
In particular, Goodwyn had himself a special night starting with his 1st inning double. The senior then topped himself in the third inning by taking a 2-0 offering into the right-center field gap for a triple before singling into center in the Knights' seven-run 4th inning.
"It's good for him," Marshall said. "In the Matoaca game, he had a bunch of pop-ups and couldn't get in a groove and didn't reach base out of the lead-off spot. He did really well tonight and that's what we need out of him."
Yet, the one player who stood out above everyone else was Fleischer.
Fleischer's bat was just as important as his arm against Hopewell, going 4-for-4 from the plate.
The senior right-hander completely befuddled Hopewell from the 1st inning to the last batter of the night which he froze on a fastball on the outside corner of the plate. And by the time the umpire rung up Trent Scott — Fleischer's seventh strikeout victim of the night — he had twirled a complete-game, two-hit shutout to put the Knights in the win column.
Additionally, Fleischer contributed with his bat in the clean-up spot, going a perfect 4-for-4 from the plate with a double, three singles and two RBIs. However, it's the type of effort Marshall has come to expect out of the VMI commit.
"Unbelievable job," Marshall said. "We were kinda joking before the game, I think he's like 5-0 against Hopewell in his career. He gets that start a lot and he gets it done. He comes out here and does what we need him to do."
As the Knights boarded their team bus back to Thomas Dale, they left knowing they had put a complete game together: pitching, hitting and defense. And if they can do so consistently, Thomas Dale will be a tough team to beat all season long.