Colonials Prove They Belong Among Best
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Apr 23, 2014, 15:09
Noah Murdock unleashes a pitch during his start against Thomas Dale.
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — About an hour before first-pitch between the Colonials and Knights, one could sense how important this game was. One glance onto the diamond saw the Colonials' players with business-like faces.
The players spoke of proving their worth against a perennial power and manager Gerald Carsley decided to send ace Noah Murdock to the hill after his complete-game effort against Monacan left him sporting a 4-0 record just five days prior. However, the Knights also had greater things on their mind.
Thomas Dale had reeled off three-straight prior to making the trip to Colonial Heights, outscoring teams by a 24-1 margin during the streak, including victories over Manchester and Prince George. And right from the opening-pitch, the Knights made sure to dictate the tone of the game.
An error by Zach Stewart on a hard-hit grounder to third allowed Nathan Eaton to reach base, starting the lead-off hitter's merry-go-round: he would steal second, immediately rise and go for third as the throw sailed high before scoring on an infield single.
That would Thomas Dale's only run over the game's first three innings during which the Colonials found themselves with numerous chances against Knights starter Collin Fleischer. In fact, the Colonials had the bases loaded in the 1st and stranded one runner on base over the next three innings before Thomas Dale seemingly broke the game open in the 4th.
The Knights scored three runs on three hits with the big blows being a double by Blake Hartman and a triple from Eaton as the backbreaker in what would become a 4-0 deficit.
"I think we need to be a little more aggressive," Carsley said of the missed chances early. "You have to give credit to Fleischer. He commanded the zone all game. Got his fastball and curveball over ... he did what a good pitcher does, but we weren't aggressive enough. If we continue to let pitchers do what they want to do then we're going to find ourselves behind."
But after shortstop Jayson Maitland was injured trying to make a stab on a jam-shot single behind the second base bag — the deficit grew to 7-0 — the Colonials showed their true colors.
The team which seemed flat for much of the game after falling behind early after the Knights made the hard-throwing Murdock look mortal, awakened. They rallied in the 6th, loading the bases Zach Stoupa who stepped into the box for the first time on the game.
Stoupa took the first offering from a tiring Fleischer before unleashing on the very next pitch and depositing it over the left field fence for a grand slam. With one swing and just one inning, the Colonials climbed closer to the Knights and made the final three outs stressful in an eventual 8-4 loss.
And while the loss was the Colonials' second in a row following a 7-4 loss to red-hot Varina, through the team's first 10 games — Colonial Heights sports a 6-4 record with nine games remaining. Those 10 games have come against tough competition during which the Colonials found a way to capture a victory over powerhouse, Dinwiddie and fought hard in losses to the Knights and Varina.
So while the Colonial Heights players walked off the field after a disappointing loss and a missed chance to capture a huge win, they should have also realized they passed the litmus test against perennially strong programs.
"In the big picture, they know they've played tough competition," Carsley said of the team's mindset. "Some of the schools in our conference, they may not play as tough of competition, but I just tell our guys, 'this is preparing us for postseason plays.' If we see a lot of good pitchers, all it's going to do is help is in the long run as long as we can make the adjustment and be successful."
The good news for Colonial Heights is they have the pieces in place to be successful as well as prepared for the Conference 25 Tournament.
After all, the Colonials have a good pitching staff with Murdock, Seth Markins and Jayson Maitland — unless the injury he suffered Tuesday night is serious although he said he never heard or felt a pop which means it's likely a strain.
Then, there is depth behind the starters with Zach Stewart and Matt Falls both showing the ability to pick up critical strikeouts while pounding the zone. But most importantly, the Colonials have a lineup which knows how to create and manufacture runs.
It starts with Markins out of the lead-off spot and his consistent ability to get on-base via line drives all over the diamond and continues with No. 2 hitter Reed Raikes' consistency in being able to lay down bunts and move runners over with his hit-placements.
And then there are power threats in Stewart and Murdock — whose slugging percentage is off the charts as every time he connects, it seems to be for an extra-base hit — and continues even to the bottom of the half of the lineup with Matt Young, Stoupa and Drew Mehfoud.
While the Colonials lost two of three to some of the top teams in the area, they proved they belong on the same diamond with them, a more important development for the growth of a program eyeing a conference title.