GREENVILLE – Noah Brown labored through his first two innings on 42 pitches, struggling to find the strike zone and walking three batters. The East Rockingham High School junior right-hander was apparently just warming up.
“Once he got into attack mode, he did really well,” ERHS coach David Scott said.
Given a three-run cushion in the third inning, Brown settled down to throw a complete-game four-hitter and ended up shouldering the weight of his teammates during a dog pile celebration as the second-seeded Eagles downed previously undefeated Riverheads 5-2 for the Conference 36 title Friday evening.
“It was the best feeling in the world, honestly,” ERHS senior first baseman Travis Lugar said of the celebration on their rival’s field. “It was amazing.”
Both teams qualified for the 2A East regional tournament. East Rock (18-4) secured a home game with the win and will host Conference 35 runner-up Madison County (10-10) at 7 p.m. Monday in the regional quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, the Gladiators (21-1) will play at C-35 champion Strasburg (20-1) on Monday.
“We made some uncharacteristic errors in the third, but good teams capitalize. And they’re a good team,” said RHS coach Rodney Painter, who was named the Shenandoah District Coach of the Year.
Brown walked the first two batters he faced and gave up a game-tying RBI sacrifice fly to senior Nathan Brooks. In the second inning, first baseman Billy Coffin and catcher Taz Miller put back-to-back one-out singles together, leading to another sacrifice fly – this time by John Weeks – that put Riverheads ahead 2-1.
The Eagles answered immediately with four runs on four hits and three errors, sending all nine hitters to the plate in the top of the third. Junior shortstop Isaac Dean lined a leadoff double off the glove of third baseman Nathan Brooks. Brown’s two-run single with the bases loaded capped the rally.
“It kind of gave me confidence,” Brown said of the third-inning run support. “I can just go up there and throw strikes and not worry about anything.”
After throwing just 20 of his first 42 pitches for strikes, Brown settled in to pitch East Rock to a tournament title for the second straight season. The fourth-year Eagles won the Shenandoah District tourney last season over Page County.
“He’s got some raw tools and if he can find a rhythm, normally he’s pretty good,” Scott said of Brown, who picked up his seventh win with four strikeouts. “Once he found it, he hit his stride.”
Sophomore right-hander Colt Miller (5-1) took the loss, allowing seven hits and five runs (three earned) over three innings.
Lugar and Brown each went 2-for-3 with two RBIs to lead East Rock. Senior second baseman Shannon Cross also had two hits, with two runs, two steals and the team’s only walk. The Eagles put a runner in scoring position in each of the first four innings.
“I don’t think they’ve had much pressure on them this year and I think that’s really what helped us out this game,” Lugar said.
Senior shortstop Chance Staton did his best to start a rally for Riverheads with a leadoff single in the fifth. The threat didn’t last long. With Staton taking off for second base on a steal attempt, senior designated hitter Kyle Bishop – the Shenandoah District Player of the Year – popped up. Brown managed to make the catch in foul territory along the first-base line and doubled off Staton.
“He has the green light, if it’s a good pitch,” Painter said of Bishop’s fifth-inning at-bat. “It was just one of those things, he just didn’t get a good swing on it.”
Junior second baseman Zach Roberts slid into first base for an infield single in the fifth just after the double play. But that was RHS’s final hit, as Brown gave up just one more base runner the rest of the way with his fourth walk.
“We wanted this game really bad,” Brown said. “They’ve come to our place and beat us. They beat us here. It’s a close game every time, and we just wanted it.”
East Rock 104 000 0 – 5 8 0
Riverheads 110 000 0 – 2 4 3
Brown and Hensley; C. Miller, Weeks (4), Whitehead (7) and T. Miller. W—Brown (7-2). L—C. Miller (5-1).