Knights Capture Fourth-Straight Win
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 22, 2014, 22:31
Nathan Eaton reached base on an error and later scored the game's first run to put the Knights ahead
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Thomas Dale's season had not started quite the way they envisioned after reaching the Regional Tournament last season. An opening-day loss to rival Matoaca and two consecutive losses to Cosby and Varina followed a win over Hopewell left them scratching their heads.
Yet, following the loss to the Blue Devils, the Knights have seemingly turned the corner. Their pitching staff began to carry the team through a 15-0 win over Meadowbrook and a 9-1 victory against Prince George heading into Spring Break. And following the week-long hiatus, Thomas Dale captured a 1-0 win over Manchester.
But the question remained — could the Knights continue their recent string of great play on the diamond or was it just a temporary mirage as they prepared for a road clash against a tough Colonial Heights team?
Lead-off hitter Nathan Eaton made sure to answer those questions as he jump-started the Knights' offense early with his heads-up play after reaching base on an E-5. Eaton would immediately steal second base and the throw from Colonials' catcher Nick Meyer sailed high as the Knights' shortstop quickly gathered himself and took off for third.
An infield RBI single by Brian Goodwyn followed and in a span of just five pitches, Thomas Dale had a lead it would not relinquish in a game they controlled all the way for a 8-4 victory at Shepherd Stadium behind the pitching of Collin Fleischer.
"He battled out of trouble all day," Thomas Dale manager Chris Marshall said after his team's fourth-straight win. "A lot of that trouble was his own doing with the walks, but he got out of it ... he did a great job for us like he has all year."
While Fleischer's final line of 5.1 innings pitched, allowing four runs, two hits, five walks and punching-out four does not seem all impressive, it was. Right from the start it was obvious the senior did not have his best stuff as he struggled to command the strike zone.
Yet, he remained unfazed as he figured out different ways to toy with the Colonials' lineup. The senior relied heavily on his fastball the first time through the order before going to first-pitch breaking balls to keep Colonial Heights off-balance all night long.
In fact, one start after throwing a no-hitter, Fleischer was in the process of throwing another one before he tired in the 6th inning as he surrendered a grand slam to Zach Stoupa, ending his night. But while Fleischer was impressive again, it was Eaton who really turned heads.
The junior not only got the Knights started off on the right-foot but continued to do so on a 2-for-3 night. In fact, it was Eaton's first-pitch swinging RBI triple which plated the Knights' fourth run in the 4th inning, putting Thomas Dale in complete control. However, it was Eaton's play in the 6th that left the crowd in awe.
The shortstop fought off a 2-1 pitch with a jam-shot right behind the second base bag as both the Colonials' second baseman and shortstop sprawled out to corral it. Seeing an opportunity present itself, Eaton took off for second and was called safe but he was not done.
Knowing the Colonials' third baseman had to cover second, he immediately took off for third, beating Zach Stewart in a foot-race before scoring another Thomas Dale run. It's that type of heady play which sets the junior apart.
Collin Fleischer did not have his best stuff, but he still stifled the Colonials' lineup.
"He plays the game like an old-school guy," Marshall said. "There's not many left that play like him. Man, he plays like Pete Rose. Sometimes I get a little irritated with him, but he's giving me every ounce of energy he has."
And so is the entire Knights' lineup which is producing at a level it has searched for since the season began.
Blake Hartman finished his night just 1-for-3, but his double, subsequent tag-up and score on a wild-pitch helped set-up a three-run inning for the Knights. There was also Taylor Trueheart who found himself on base three separate times on a 1-for-3 game with an RBI as well.
But none of the production was more important than Maurice Gothe's 2-for-4 night for an RBI.
The all-district player from last season has struggled out of the gates, seemingly skying long fly-balls for outs during every at-bat. However, the center fielder looked to be turning the corner against the Colonials as he scolded two line drives for a single and double during his best game of the season.
"That was great to see," Marshall said of the senior. "That line drive he hit in the top of the 7th was great hitting. He's got a loop in his swing, but he's straightening it out and he's starting to hit better and we need him."
Although Thomas Dale would also like to see the current string of dominating pitching to continue as well.
During the four-game winning-streak, the Knights have outscored opponents by a 32-5 margin with the pitching staff leading the way and dictating the tone of games from the outset. It started with Fleischer's no-hitter against Meadowbrook and continued into this week in a one-hit, 14-strikeout performance against Manchester from Eaton.
It's a confidence-builder for a team seemingly hitting its stride as the season heads down the final stretch.
"It's been unbelievable," Marshall said of the staff. "Early in the year we walked a lot of people, so we've limited that and now we're making plays. You've got to give the defense a lot of credit, too, making plays behind them ... defense and the pitching are carrying us right now."
If it continues to carry them, Thomas Dale may find themselves reaching their lofty goals set before the season after learning valuable lessons from a tough start.