James Wood to take on Monacan in Class 4 baseball semifinals

There were times this season where the James Wood baseball team would score in bunches, but there were also times the Colonels struggled to score at all.

Three of James Wood’s five losses came by shutout and as the postseason approached Colonels coach Adrian Pullen decided to do something more proactive to try to ensure that did not happen.

So he turned up the heat to see if the opposition could handle it and so far it has worked well. Offensive pressure, coupled with outstanding pitching and defense, has James Wood (21-5) playing in the Class 4 semifinals against Monacan (13-12) at 10 a.m. on Friday at Riverbend High School in Fredericksburg. The winner will face the winner between Jefferson Forest (21-4) and Hanover (21-2) in the title game on Saturday at 11 a.m.

Pullen hopes the Colonels can continue what has been a recipe for success in today’s semifinals. Bunts, stolen bases and aggressive baserunning have played a big part in his club going 5-1 in the postseason and 12-1 since a 1-0 loss in 11 innings to Millbrook in the regular season.

“At the end of the day towards the end of the season, I said let’s help the kids and put things on,” said Pullen, who is now 34-9 in two seasons leading the program. “Make them be focused. Sometimes if you don’t give a kid a job per se, his mind is not as focused. But if you give them a task — specific to what they need to do — they have no question in their minds what they need to do.

“You give them the bunt sign, they know they need to bunt. You give them the hit-and-run, they know they need to execute that. ... When you put on pressure and make people make plays defensively, that’s more chances to make mistakes.”

And James Wood has the kind of speed to apply the pressure. Single-season record holder Bodie Pullen (35), Jacob Roy (17), Eli Miller (14), Brody Bower (14) and Michael Jackson (11) will steal bases and the Colonels are adept at taking a base if a pitch slips away from the catcher.

The Colonels had five steals and scored twice on wild pitches in their 5-1 quarterfinal win over Salem on Tuesday. Three bunts that were misplayed fueled a 7-5 triumph against Millbrook in the Region 4C finals.

“We never give up until the last out is done,” pitcher/third baseman Colin McGuire said Tuesday. “We battle until we come out victorious.”

Monacan has been on a roll in the postseason. The Chiefs were the 10th seed among 12 teams in the Region 4B tournament and advanced to the title game before falling 4-0 against Hanover. Along the way, they knocked off second-seeded King George (6-3) and third-seeded Mechanicsville (14-8).

On Tuesday, Monacan scored twice in the top of the seventh to beat Grafton 5-3. The Chiefs strung together five singles, one on a bunt, in the seventh and finished with 11 hits. No. 2 hitter Jake Williams had three hits, while No. 3 Jaden Greenidge and No. 7 Reid Ivy had two apiece.

“They look to be a strong group of senior leaders in their lineup,” Adrian Pullen said of the limited research he had on the Chiefs. “It looks like No. 1-4 are seniors. They swing it pretty good. They can run. It looks like pitching-wise that they are going to pound the zone and play defense well. They’re going to be looking for our kids to get themselves out on their pitch.”

In fact, Pullen believes the Chiefs have a familiar resemblance.

“They look a lot like us, just like Salem did,” Pullen said. “They’re scrappy. They play hard. They won [Tuesday] in the seventh inning. They are not going to give up and go away, so we are going to have to play a strong game — pitching and defense and executing offensively — in order to put ourselves in position to win.”

The James Wood coach also believes Monacan’s record isn’t indicative of their strength. The Chiefs played multiple Class 5 and Class 6 teams during the regular season. Two of their losses came against Cosby, which advanced to the Class 6 quarterfinals.

“They’ve played a lot of good competition and their record is deceiving,” Adrian Pullen said. “I don’t always put a lot of faith in records and statistics. It comes down to who has the heart, who wants it the most and who is going to execute when execution is needed.”

The Colonels will go with No. 2 starter McGuire on the mound. The junior right-hander is 6-2 with a 2.57 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 51.2 innings.

Daniel Franceshi (1.08 ERA in 13 innings) will be the first one out of the bullpen.

“I’ve had confidence in our whole staff all year,” Adrian Pullen said. “Poor Daniel. I told somebody today that Daniel is someone who has probably thrown 833 pitches in the bullpen this year and he’s probably got 150 in the games. He’s been ready, but we haven’t had to go to him. But when we have, he’s executed.”

Led by Bower (.396 average, 24 RBIs) the Colonels currently have six players hitting above .320 in the lineup. Bodie Pullen (.370, 16 RBIs), Miller (.365, 11 RBIs), Jared Neal (.326, 18 RBIs), Roy (.321, 12 RBIs) and Kemper Omps (.321) are hitting above that mark, while McGuire (.284, 21 RBIs) and John Copenhaver (14 RBIs) are driving in runs.

“Right now, I think our confidence is through the roof, but we can’t get too ahead of ourselves,” said Bower, who had a triple and a double and scored twice on Tuesday. “We have to stay humble and play our hearts out. That’s all we can do.”

Adrian Pullen said his team is benefiting now from the groundwork laid last season. The Colonels advanced to the Region 4C finals before falling against eventual state champion Broad Run.

He said that he texted last season’s five seniors after the Colonels’ victory on Tuesday.

“They showed the younger kids what it took to buy into what I was preaching and do it the way we believe it should be done,” Pullen said. “They set the standard and now this year’s seniors learned from them and saw what it takes. We’ve gotten to where we were last year and beyond that because they passed it on to these younger guys. We are in a good situation program-wise because of how they buy in to my sermons every day.”

And the sermon for Friday is for the Colonels stay the course.

“The key to us continuing the run we’re on is for us to continue to believe in ourselves and our teammates, to continue to work together, play hard and compete every day,” Adrian Pullen said. “I tell them, ‘If you compete and give your all, you’re winners. It doesn’t matter what the outcome is. You do what’s necessary. You do what you’re capable of and we’ll be a success.’

“Not a whole lot of people believed in us in the beginning of the season, but I know we did and I know I did.”

— Contact Walt Moody at
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