James Wood rallies past Millbrook for first region baseball title since 1985

WINCHESTER — James Wood baseball coach Adrian Pullen admitted he was a little emotional holding the Region 4C championship trophy on Thursday evening.

The former Colonels standout as a player knew what the piece of wood and metal signified. No James Wood team had won that hardware since the 1985 season when the Colonels went all of the way to the state finals before falling 7-3 against J.R. Tucker.

And after a 7-5 comeback win Thursday against a Millbrook squad that had beaten his team in their three previous meetings this season, Pullen said holding the trophy was special

“It means a lot for the James Wood baseball program,” he said. “1985, that’s what I heard when I played here. That’s what I heard when I coached here as an assistant and that’s what I’ve heard since I’ve been a head coach here — 1985. In my mind, I’ve always wanted to be 1985 — to get to where they got and then see if we can do it.”

Both the Colonels (20-5) and the Pioneers (21-3) still have that chance to win a state crown when the Class 4 quarterfinals open Tuesday. James Wood will host Region 4D runner-up Salem (14-6) at a time TBA, while Millbrook travels to Region 4D champ Jefferson Forest (20-4) for a 6 p.m. start at Thacker Field at Forest Middle School.

Held before a spillover crowd at Millbrook, Thursday’s regional championship held as much drama as the three previous meetings between the clubs, which the Pioneers won 4-3, 1-0 in 11 innings and 6-4.

The difference in this contest came down to the smallest of things — the bunt. Millbrook misplayed three James Wood bunts which had a big part in a pair of three-run innings.

“We made a vow to ourselves this week that we are going to pressure teams,” Pullen said. “That’s how we are going to win — we will live and die with pressure. … When we pressured, we got on and we did what was necessary.

“I’m not Earl Weaver,” Pullen added in referencing the Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager. “Sitting back and waiting for a three-run bomb just doesn’t work in high school. It’s putting pressure on with a bunt, hit-and-run. We executed tonight and that’s what won us the ballgame.”

The Colonels used multiple bunts to spark a three-run second against Millbrook starter Carl Keenan. After Eli Miller led off with a single, Nick Bell bunted but miscommunication on who was going to make the play led to Bell reaching safely. After John Copenhaver’s sacrifice bunt put runners at second and third, Kemper Omps’ safety squeeze was thrown away, which allowed two runs to score and Omps to reach third. After a walk, Jared Neal’s sacrifice fly made it 3-0.

The Pioneers would get even in the fourth and take the lead an inning later against James Wood starter Colin McGuire. Nate Brookshire led off with a single and one out later raced to third on a hit-and-run single by Chase Ford. With runners at second and third, Ryan Liero smacked a two-run single to left. Brandon Mullins lined a two-out single to right to tie the score.

In the fifth, Keenan led off with a single, moved to second on a bunt and scored when Jerrod Jenkins ripped a two-out single to right to make it 4-3.

But a misplayed bunt would bite the Pioneers in the top of the sixth. With one out, Cophenhaver singled against reliever Ethan Burgreen and Omps followed with a bunt that the Pioneers failed to grab, again. A walk to Bodie Pullen loaded the bases for Neal, who was 2-for-2. Neal fouled off one two-strike pitch before hitting a sharp grounder to right that took a bad hop past second baseman Liero to allow two runs to score.

“Last time we played here, I struck out with the bases loaded,” Neal said. “All I was trying to do was put it in play. I was fortunate enough to put it in play and everybody else did the rest.”

“Jared had the best AB’s that he’s had all year,” Adrian Pullen said. “Hey, he’s a good hitter and we all know struggles can go away just like that. That’s the beauty of this game.”

Brody Bower followed with a deep fly to center to plate Pullen to make it 6-4. An inning later, Miller singled, swiped second, moved to third on Bell’s infield hit and scored on Copenhaver’s sacrifice fly.

“They executed,” Millbrook coach Brian Burke said. “They put pressure on our defense. We don’t communicate two times and I think it resulted in four runs between the two innings. When you get to this stage of the season, those are things you usually have hammered out.”

Trailing 7-4, the Pioneers made things interesting in the seventh. With one out, Keenan singled and moved to second after not being held on. Burgreen fouled off four two-strike pitches before rapping a single to right that plated Keenan.

After Burgreen’s at-bat, Adrian Pullen turned to reliever Daniel Franceschi, who like Neal had a bad memory against the Pioneers. Francheschi had given up a two-out, two-run double to Jenkins in the top of the seventh that was the difference in the 4-3 game.

Franceschi showed no fear with the tying run at the plate, getting Brookshire on a pop-up to short and Jenkins on a fly to left on a total of five pitches to end the contest.

“There was no pressure,” Franceschi said. “I’ve been I that situation a lot this year. I came in and was able to the job and it feels great to help the team win.”

“He knows we trust him and we believe,” Adrian Pullen said of his side-arming right-hander. “He did it tonight. He didn’t let the past affect him. He won that one. Jerrod won the first one.”

Burke liked the way his team scrapped back from the early deficit to get a lead and to bring the tying run to the plate in the seventh.

“I’m not making any excuses, but four times is tough to beat someone,” Burke said. “And with a quality team like Adrian has, it’s dang tough.”

Burke said his squad, which is unbeaten on the road, will make the necessary adjustments for the quarterfinal matchup. “It becomes a business trip Tuesday and we’ll see where we end up with Jefferson Forest,” he said.

Franceschi said the Colonels will enter Tuesday’s clash with Salem at R. Charles Hott Field with momentum. “It’s going to be a home game,” he said. “It’s going to be packed out. I think it’s going to be amazing.”

And if both teams can win twice, they would battle each other in the state title game.

“No, I would not be surprised if we had to face each other one more time for it all,” Burke said. “We’ve proven we’re the two best teams in this region and I think it’s been that way from Day 1.”

“I told them, we might see them in the end,” Adrian Pullen said of the Pioneers. “If that’s the case, then fifth round.”

— Contact Walt Moody at

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