James Wood falls to Broad Run in regional baseball semifinals

ASHBURN — James Wood baseball coach Adrian Pullen could have had a laundry list full of excuses why his team fell against Broad Run in the Region 4C championship game on Wednesday.

He could have dwelt on the negative in athe 13-3 loss in six innings against the Dulles District champions.

But instead, he pointed to Spartans as they went about preparing their field for a state semifinal game on Monday and complimented them for something he admired in his own club.

“That team beat us,” Pullen said. “They put pressure on us. They took advantage of everything. That’s what I envisioned if I was sitting in the stands watching our team all year. We just got it handed back to us what we have done to others all year. Hat’s off to them, their coaching staff and their players. They did it.”

Broad Run (14-1), led by a strong pitching performance from Connor Hale, will host the Region 4D champion in the VHSL semifinals. James Wood, after winning its first regional playoff game since 1985 in Monday’s semifinals, finishes its season 13-4.

Hale handcuffed the Colonels on five hits, while walking one and striking out seven. It was a markedly different than his previous outing when he gave up three runs and walked four in 2.2 innings in an 8-6 Dulles District semifinal win against Tuscarora.

“That’s probably the best pitcher we’ve seen all year long,” Pullen said. “He performed above what the scouting reports said. He did not struggle with command. He didn’t struggle with anything. He pounded the zone and he got on us.”

“He’s a four-year varsity starter,” Broad Run coach Tommy Meier said of Hale, who will play collegiately at Villanova. “In a region championship, he’s the guy you want to give the ball to. For four years, Connor has flown under the radar around here and I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves. I think he is one of the best baseball players in Northern Virginia. I’m happy that tonight he had the opportunity to showcase that.”

While the Spartans had their No. 1 pitcher on the mound, the Colonels did not have either of the pitchers who have carried them down the stretch. Because both Kaden Spaid and Nick Bell (who had combined to pitch all but 2.2 innings in the Colonels’ four playoff wins) both threw more than 50 pitches in Monday’s 3-2 win over Heritage in eight innings and were not available to pitch on Wednesday.

Luke Gross, who last threw 2.2 innings against Sherando on May 25, started for James Wood and ran into trouble early. Adam Chow led off with a single, moved to second on a grounder and was called safe on a steal of third. Andrew Market’s groundout plated Chow to make it 1-0.

The Colonels then committed a pair of errors on a grounder that landed Tyler Morley at third. Another error plated Morley and made it 2-0 after one.

Aden Payne then gave the Colonels’ faithful something the cheer about in the top of the second. Payne plastered a Hale offering deep into the trees behind the left-field fence to cut the deficit to 2-1.

“I’ve been struggling recently,” Payne said. “I was just trying to go back to not thinking about anything and go up there with a blank mind and try to catch a fastball out in front.”

Colin McGuire then singled to left, but James Wood could not capitalize.

“We answered and it got to the point where we were trying to chip away at it, but again that guy (Hale) didn’t let up,” Pullen said.

Hale had a bigger lead to work with the next time he toed the rubber.

A hit, a hit batter and walk loaded the bases with one out. Hale (walk), Market (sacrifice fly) and Morley (single) each drove in a run to make it 5-1.

 

McGuire, whose last outing was two-thirds of an inning on May 25, took over on the mound in the third and held the Spartans scoreless in that frame.

The Colonels would get a run back in the fourth as McGuire (2 for 2 with a walk in the contest) smacked a two-out single up the middle, swiped second base and scored on a lined single to left by Brody Bower (2 for 3).

But the Spartans would bounce back, taking advantage of walks, speed, the wind and the sun. After Chow and Hale walked with one out, they executed a double-steal with Market at the plate. Market then hit the next pitch high to center field and the ball kept carrying in the the strong breeze all of the way to the fence for a two-run double. After an out and a walk, Matthew Mizelle hit a fly ball that left fielder Bower couldn’t find in the sun and two more runs scored to make it 9-2.

Of their nine runs, six reached on either an error, a hit batter or a walk.

“That’s a big part of baseball,” Meier said of taking advantage of openings. “We try our best to put pressure on the defense when we can. Sometimes it works out our way.”

The Colonels scored without a hit in the fifth. Leadoff batter Gross was plunked by Hale, moved to second on a groundout and came in to score on two passed balls.

But the contest ended an inning early in the sixth as Broad Run scored four unearned runs. After an error prolonged the inning and allowed a run to score, reliever Bodie Pullen would walk three straight batters with the bases loaded. Chow’s walk, the Spartans 10th in the contest, ended the game.

Payne, one of five seniors on the squad, said that for the Colonels not to play up to their best stung.

“It makes it tough,” he said. “We came out confident. The first inning was a little rough and we had some mishaps, but we were still confident throughout the whole game that we had a chance. We just needed some balls to fall and to put some balls on the barrel, but we just didn’t put it together. It happens.”

While disappointed Wednesday, the Colonels were proud of what they did accomplish this season, which included their first district title since 2007.

“It’s crazy,” Payne said. “I’ve never been a part of anything like it. This team and everybody doing it together, I’ll remember this forever.”

“This season and these guys, we’ve worked our butts off,” said Gross “We’ve done everything and worked every single day. We’ve taken no off-days. I’ve loved every single one of these guys every day. We gave it everything we had. It’s not the outcome we wanted, but we never gave up. We never laid off. We gave it everything we had. You couldn’t ask for a better team.”

“What a season,” Adrian Pullen agreed with his players. “Did I think we were this good? Yes. That’s why I pushed the buttons for two years, throughout COVID, all last summer and the fall that we played together. I kept pushing buttons because I could see in the horizon where we could be and we almost got there.”

When asked about his seniors Jayden Nixon, Spaid, Payne, Gross and catcher Andrew Waters, Pullen got emotional about what those players have meant to the program and how he expects them to succeed in future endeavors.

“It’s a good bunch of kids who have grown up over the last two years,” he said. “They understand now what life is all about and what it takes.”

And Pullen is excited about what the postseason experience has meant to those who will be back next spring.

“It continues to put us on the path to be a successful program now for years to come,” he said. “Our young kids — we have freshmen, sophomore and juniors — they got the experience of what it was like to win in the postseason and to lose now in the postseason. I broke it down into three seasons — the first six, the second six and the postseason. In Season 3, we’re 4-1. That’s pretty good. That was better than the first two seasons and it’s all been against great competition.”

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