Prince George Blue Sox Win Playoff Opener
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Jul 28, 2014, 19:52
Howard Spencer crosses home plate for the first of nine runs scored by the Blue Sox.
DISPUTANA — Hidden from sight behind an older house sits a patch of grass, infield dirt, a pitcher's mound and two batter's boxes surrounded by a lively group of fans shouting for friends and family with the smells of hot dogs and burgers in the air. It's at 9800 Centennial Road where the Virginia Commonwealth Baseball League's Prince George Blue Sox plays their home games in a league filled with former college players who are trying to see their dreams continued.
Each week, the communities gather themselves together for a nine-inning affair in a league which also includes the Chase City Dodgers, Carson Cardinals, D.C. Giants, Dinwiddie Rangers and the Dinwiddie Orioles. It is a league which housed former Major League Baseball players Curtis Wilkerson, Mike Christopher and James Austin, showing the type of impact the league can have on players' futures.
But it is between the lines where the love for baseball in each one of the men clad in their team's colors shines through. Never was this more evident than Sunday afternoon as the Blue Sox hosted the visiting Orioles in the first game of a five-game, opening-round playoff series between the two teams. The No. 1 seeded Blue Sox finished the season with just two blemishes on the campaign with a 10-2 record and are the clear favorites to capture the league's crown.
Over the course of the 9-inning affair, the Blue Sox did little to hurt their chances and instead hammered home the reasons why the team filled with more than a few homegrown players have a chance to be crowned champions at the end of the season.
Lead-off hitter Howard Spencer scored the first run of the game almost single-handedly as he worked a 3-2 walk, stole second base and swiped both third and home on successive wild-pitches. Prince George would then tack on four additional runs in the 2nd inning with the key hit coming from former Hopewell High School standout Adam Capps who laced a two-run double into left-center field.
The four-run cushion would be all that was needed for Blue Sox starter Campbell Henkel as he shut-down the Orioles all afternoon before adding an exclamation point with a three-run homer in the 5th inning to cap off what would eventually be a 9-2 victory.
After the game, manager Bill Crockett said it was just the continuation of the way his team has played since coming together in March and setting a team-goal of winning the title.
"We started back in March and we told the guys we wanted to win first-place in our division and then win the championship," Crockett said. "Right now, we earned first -place, but now we have to get the championship. I told them to not take anyone lately because all of these teams on a given day can beat each other. This is a strong league and it continues to get better."
And his statement was proven true over the course of a contest the Blue Sox dominated because of the pitching of Henkel on the mound.
Henkel just completed his senior year at the Virginia Military Institute where he played all four years as both a starter and a reliever for the Keydets. After his season's completion, Henkel wanted to continue playing baseball this summer and joined on with the Blue Sox and in his first playoff start, he was dazzling.
Campbell Henkel, out of VMI, tossed seven strong innings to earn the win.
Henkel punched out four of the first six batters he faced, using an assortment of pitches including a two-seam fastball, change-up and a late-breaking curveball. With Henkel constantly changing the hitters' eye-level by moving his pitches around the zone, the Orioles struggled to sustain any rallies against the left-hander.
In fact, over Henkel's seven innings on the mound, the Orioles managed to record just two hits on he afternoon while pushing across two runs with one of those coming without the benefit of a hit in the inning. After the win, Crockett couldn't hide his excitement over how big of an addition Henkel was to his team.
"He's been a big plus of us," Crockett said of the lefty. "I went to see him when VMI went to play Virginia Commonwealth University and he had said he wanted somewhere to play this summer and we are glad to have him."
But he is not the only player Crockett is happy to have.
Former Thomas Dale standout and current member of the Chowan University, Ryan Moore fired two scoreless innings of relief to complete the win over the Orioles Sunday afternoon. The right-hander showed off a high-octane fastball and a late-breaking slider en route to punching pout three of the six batters he faced.
Former Hopewell standout Adam Capps blasted a two-run double to get the Blue Sox off to a fast start.
In addition to Moore, there is Jared Stanley — also a former Hopewell High School standout — who has played professional baseball. Stanley had reached as high as the Double-A level in the Boston Red Sox organization and hit the ball hard in three consecutive at-bats spanning the 5th through 8th innings, recording just one hit while just coming up short of a home run in two other at-bats.
It's this type of talent littering the roster which makes the Blue Sox a fearsome opponent for any team and the odds-on favorite to win it all. But in the playoffs, Crockett and his team know it's important to not be too confident because upsets do happen.
"I told the guys that when the playoffs start, it's another season," Crockett said. "Everyone is 0-0. That's when the upsets become a part of the game. We can't take anyone lightly because they have a chance to beat us just as much as we can beat them."
A nine-run outburst and a dominating seven-inning effort from Henkel has the Blue Sox just two wins away from advancing in the playoffs. With Game 2 scheduled for Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m., Prince George can refocus on accomplishing the goal they set five months ago and send a message to the rest of the VCBL in the process.