Knights' Season Comes To An End
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
May 28, 2014, 20:31
Collin Fleischer drove in the Knights' lone run in a season-ending loss.
CHESTER — If sports followed the perfect script, Thomas Dale's baseball team would have been heading to a rematch with Cosby Friday afternoon for a Conference 3 Tournament title. They would have overcome the two consecutive losses to the Titans over the past two seasons and sent the senior-laden team out on a high-note with a conference title and a second-consecutive appearance in Regionals.
After two innings of play in the Conference 3 Tournament semifinal contest against James River, it seemed the outcome was going in the Knights' favor. Ace Nathan Eaton had already beaten the Rapids earlier this season and looked to be on his game early after suffering a loss last week against Matoaca. The junior pitched his way around a lead-off walk to begin the game and out-did himself in the second frame.
Eaton surrendered a one-out single, but regrouped quickly to record back-to-back punch-outs, including one of the looking variety on a perfectly placed fastball on the outside corner. Meanwhile, the Knights offense pushed across a run early in the game as Eaton singled on a 1-2 offering before being sacrificed over by a Brian Goodwyn bunt. Then, Collin Fleischer lined a base-hit up the middle to score Eaton and give the Knights a 1-0 lead.
The pieces were in place for the Knights to get their long-awaited third chance at Cosby, but it would all fall apart. James River refused to be a part of the script written before the game, putting a four-spot on the board in the 5th inning. The Rapids would tack on three additional runs over the final two frames to eventually take an 8-1 decision, ending the Knights' season earlier than expected while sending the seniors out in a tough fashion.
"They hit the ball," Thomas Dale manager Chris Marshall said of James River. "We watched them Monday when they struggled, but they made some adjustments it looked like and it hurt us."
But the loss doesn't hurt anyone more than the seniors lining the Knights' roster.
As Brian Goodwyn hit a hard-hit grounder to shortstop for what resulted in a game-ending 6-3 double play, Fleischer was already shaking his head, disappointed and hurt he would not have a chance to earn a championship. Taylor Trueheart fought back tears as he walked through the handshake line following the last out and continued to fight them well after Marshall finished addressing the team.
Maurice Gothe could do nothing but look down as he trudged off the field while Goodwyn, always one to have a smile on his face, also wore a blank expression after suffering the disappointing result. The seniors played a key part of the revitalization of the Thomas Dale baseball program. They oversaw the program's rise back to being one of the better teams in the area again after not reaching the Regional Tournament for four years until last season's appearance.
Nathan Eaton scored the game's first run, but James River would knock the Knights out of the Conference 3 Tournament.
It's what made the post-game discussion hard for Marshall to make. He knew his team didn't play particularly bad, but a few errors and mental mistakes cost the seniors a chance at reaching Regionals once again.
"I told them I know the season didn't end the way they wanted it to, but that's baseball," Marshall explained of the discussion. "Especially in the switch-over from the Central District to this conference; it's tough. You're either going to play Cosby or James River to get to Region ... I give them all the credit. They played well and looked like a playoff a team. It wasn't that we played bad, we just couldn't string together a few hits."
In fact, the game could have taken a much different turn if the Knights extended a rally in the opening frame.
After Fleischer drove in Eaton on a liner to center, Corey Johnston followed with an infield single to put runners on first and second with just one out for Taylor Trueheart. While Trueheart would finish the game going 1-for-3, the one hit did not come in the 1st inning. Instead, on a 3-1 pitch, Trueheart grounded into an inning-ending double play to allow James River starter Josh Winder to escape.
While the Knights would get base runners on in the 3rd and 4th innings as well, Winder had settled into the game by then and taken command of the strike zone to thwart any scoring chance Thomas Dale could muster. But while the Knights couldn't come through then they needed to — even Fleischer popped out with a runner in scoring position — it did nothing to hurt the legacy of what they are leaving behind.
Thomas Dale manager Chris Marshall addresses his distraught team after their season-ending loss.
They may not be donning a Knights' jersey next season, but they have left behind a solid foundation on which the rising seniors can build off of into the future, something not unnoticed by Marshall.
"A couple of years ago, this program was kind of crazy and players had quit," Marshall explained of the situation. "The seniors were the 10th graders of that class and they stuck with it. Last year, they earned a piece of that title and this year we were right there again with the bye. It says a lot about their character with them working hard to bring Thomas Dale baseball up and they definitely did that."
While the Knights' season didn't have its movie script ending, one loss does not dictate the season. Thomas Dale reeled off 13-straight and solidified itself as a top program once again. And with Tommy Barron, Blake Hartman, Johnston and Eaton returning, the elusive movie script ending may be in the team's immediate future.