Knights Eye Conference Title
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
May 23, 2014, 09:46
Tommy Barron recent efforts have turned his season around and the Knights' postseason prospects with it.
DINWIDDIE — It's been 52 days since Thomas Dale's baseball season began with an 8-2 loss to Matoaca before following with just one win in the opening four games. Yet, in the 15 games since that point, the Knights have corrected the flaws which proved fatal in the first week and have put themselves in position to be a favorite in the Conference 3 Tournament beginning next week.
Just 24 hours after Thomas Dale found their 13-game win-streak snapped by the very same Warriors who delivered a season-opening defeat to the Knights, they took the field looking to grab another win in the final regular season game. And against a Dinwiddie team they defeated just three days prior, Thomas Dale did not play their best — starting pitcher Collin Fleischer lasted just 3.1 innings while walking seven batters — but the Knights found a way to get back on track.
While the result of the season's final game didn't matter — the Knights had already guaranteed themselves a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament with two wins over the final week — they found themselves with a 3-1 victory on the field behind a combined one-hit effort by three different pitchers.
But most importantly, it was the way the Knights rebounded after their first loss over the last 43 days which gives promise to what they can accomplish during postseason play. They showcased a winning attitude and a focused demeanor manager Chris Marshall has come to see everyday with a ball-club which knows it's talented, but continued to do the little things needed to win.
It's why he never panicked or wondered what the response of his team would be after their largest margin of defeat all season, even one at the hands of their bitter rival Matoaca.
"I knew if we came out today and played well, we would be fine from that point," Marshall said after the game. "Matoaca just handed it to us last night. Sometimes you get your butt kicked in baseball and that's what happened. I But I don't think that's going to affect us. They're confident guys and they know it wasn't our night and I expect them to come out and play as well as they ever have next week."
It would be difficult to expect anything less from a team which has been clicking on all cylinders over the past month. Yet, no one has been more impressive during the turnaround than Tommy Barron.
Last year's All-District pitcher struggled in a season-opening loss to Matoaca and a loss to Varina the following week, pushing him back on the depth chart and allowing doubts to fill within him. However, Barron fired three shutout innings against Petersburg last month, rediscovering his arm angle which allowed the late-tailing action on all of his pitches.
The little confidence boost seemed to be all the junior needed as he went on to throw a complete-game shutout against Prince George — an 8-inning affair in which the Knights pushed across the winning runs in the 8th inning — and followed it with a solid 6-inning effort against Dinwiddie May 18.
Then, when Marshall needed a reliever as Fleischer's struggles from the mound continued Thursday night — the senior hadn't allowed a hit, but had walked seven in 3.1 innings — he brought in Barron. The junior responded with two additional hitless innings while punching out three batters, continuing his abrupt turnaround.
"We talked about needing him to step up earlier this year and he's done it," Marshall explained of Barron allowing just three runs over his last 19 innings of work with 17 strikeouts and just 12 hits allowed. "He's become that solid No. 2. I think we have two or three guys who are solid No. 2 pitchers and they all kind of do their part and get us where we need to be."
But Barron is just part of the reason Marshall can envision a lengthy playoff run.
Blake Hartman's power bat and cannon of an arm has been difference-makers for the Knights this season.
He has a quality stable of arms which can shut opposing teams down during any game and it starts with Nathan Eaton who has pitched his way into the role of staff ace this season. Eaton has fired off a one-hitter against Machester and earned a huge win over James River earlier this season. Additionally, Corey Johnston has brought a power-arm into relief situations when called upon.
Meanwhile, Fleischer has thrown a shutout and a no-hitter already this season, but has struggled through his last two starts. The senior has completed 4.2 innings, surrendering four runs and walking 10 in the span. Yet, his track record of success would indicate he'll turn it around when the Knights need it the most.
And while the pitching gives the Knights a big advantage, their ability to play defense is often undervalued. Standing in right field during every game is Blake Hartman whose cannon of an arm and ability to throw out runners at will — he has three assists this season — halts runners from taking an extra base against the Knights, something that has helped the team experience success.
"I can't remember ever having a player who has anything but one or two assists all season," Marshall said. "That's why we have him there. He's a great outfielder with a great arm and he's come up big for us as a new guy to the varsity level."
Fifty-two days after questions began to surface about a club struggling to reach high expectations, the Knights enter the Conference 3 Tournament a confident club with lofty aspirations. Whether those aspirations will be met remains to be seen, but the Knights have put themselves in an enviable position to check off their goals one postseason win at a time.