James Wood clinches Region 4C baseball berth behind Bell's one-hitter

WINCHESTER — James Wood pitcher Nick Bell knew he could change the school’s baseball record book in two categories on Friday night in the Class 4 Northwestern District semifinals against Kettle Run.

But he also knew aside from the personal milestones something more important was on the line — the Colonels’ entire season.

Bell came through with a one-hit gem and James Wood needed it as the Colonels topped the Cougars 2-0 at R. Charles Hott Field. The triumph, the team’s ninth straight, coupled with Millbrook’s 5-1 victory over Fauquier, clinched a second consecutive berth in the Region 4C tournament for the Colonels (18-4), who will travel to the Pioneers (19-2) for the district title at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

Bell broke the school record with his ninth victory of the season and shattered the strikeout mark by getting 12 to move to 102 on the season. Chris Kees (1997) and Josh Dick (2009) held the previous mark with eight wins, while Dick (2009) was the previous record holder with 92 strikeouts in a season.

“It’s crazy,” Bell said of setting the milestones. “I feel like all of the work is paying off this year. I can’t take all of the credit for that though. Our guys, we’ve been working all winter and all year long.”

“He was amazing as always,” said Brody Bower, who also broke the school’s RBI mark with his triple in the first. “I’m pretty sure he feels comfortable with our defense, so he’s comfortable with throwing strikes.”

James Wood coach Adrian Pullen said Bell’s success doesn't come by accident.

“He’s just an awesome kid who works hard every day,” Pullen said of Bell, who sat down the final 19 batters in order Friday. “He doesn’t get too high and he doesn’t get too low. He tries to stay even keel. He mixes pitches well. He’s a pitcher. He’s not a thrower.”

While he did not walk a batter in the contest, Bell said he struggled in the opening innings because he was opening up his front shoulder too early. He surrendered a first-inning single to Miles Western and had two 3-0 counts and a 3-1 count to other Cougars batters in the first three innings.

“I wasn’t getting my first-pitch strikes and all year I’ve been first-pitch strike heavy,” Bell said. “I closed up by about the third or fourth inning and I finally settled in and got it done.”

Adrian Pullen said that Bell might have had a little extra adrenaline to get the strikeout mark. “I think that was a little bit on his mind, not that he’s a stat-driven person,” Pullen said. “At the same time, it was an exciting moment for him and I think he was trying a little too hard and he was amped up. Once we talked about an adjustment that needed to be made and he broke the record, then he settled in and threw pretty good.”

Bell struck out six straight in the fourth and fifth innings and had at least one strikeout in every inning. He was backed by a defense that did not commit an error.

Bower’s hit in the first turned out to be the one that made the difference. Leadoff hitter Bodie Pullen took four straight balls from Kyle Ellis and then added to his school record by stealing second. After a fly out, Bower drilled Ellis’ first pitch into the left-center gap and hustled around to third while Pullen was scoring the opening run. Colin McGuire followed with a sacrifice fly to center field to make it 2-0.

“That’s the way we draw it up,” Adrian Pullen said of the Colonels’ offense in the first inning. “It doesn’t always work, but that’s kind of our offensive strategy. We want to get on. We want to move up and we want to drive them in.”

Bower’s RBI was his 22nd of the season, breaking Mike Sempeles' mark of 21 from 1985.

But the first would be the only inning that the Colonels would put a mark on the scoreboard. Ellis (3.2 innings) and Warren Bernard (2.1) would hold James Wood to three hits and catcher Jake Ascari threw out two runners at second. The Colonels beat the Cougars 11-1 and 9-0 during the regular season.

“We didn’t execute in a lot of situations that we’ve been executing in pretty well,” said Adrian Pullen, who praised the two Kettle Run pitchers. “… We’ll go back and work on that tomorrow.”

With regional seedings set, Tuesday’s clash against Millbrook is for bragging rights and a trophy. The Colonels, the defending tournament champions, have lost a pair of one-run games to the Pioneers — 4-3 and an epic 1-0 game in 11 innings in which Bell tossed 6.2 perfect innings.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Bower said of facing the Pioneers. “We’re going to get ready to be after it.”

“Everyone is excited. We can’t wait,” said Bell, who now has not allowed a run in 21.2 career postseason innings. “It’s always a battle between Millbrook and us and it’s always a good game. Everyone looks forward to it.”

Adrian Pullen expects another tight contest.

“They’re a great team,” he said of the Pioneers. “They are well-coached. They do what needs to be done and they believe in themselves. We believe in ourselves. It’s going to come down to who executes when execution needs to happen.”

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