COVINGTON – Pressed into pitching with one inning of experience this season, Turner Ashby High School senior Evan Hanifee didn’t hesitate as he took the mound in a tough spot, needing three outs to force extra innings against Conference 31 champion William Byrd.
He got two.
Senior first baseman Dustin Boothe hit a game-tying double off freshman reliever Jesse Showalter, and the Terriers capped an improbable five-run rally in the bottom of the seventh, beating TA 7-6 on a walk-off wild pitch in the 3A West regional baseball semifinals Thursday at Casey Field.
“I stood most of the seventh inning and prayed in the dugout,” Byrd coach Chris Carr said.
After Hanifee’s pitch skipped into the dirt and got past freshman catcher Cody Warner, Boothe slid in emphatically with no play at the plate.
“Hindsight, I would’ve brought in Evan to start the seventh,” said TA coach Sean Hanifee, who threw sophomore Trent Abernathy and Showalter in the final inning before going to his older son. “…Our backs were up against the wall. The winning run on second. Nobody out. I wanted somebody that was going to go up there and give us everything they had.”
Winning their seventh in a row, the Terriers (15-10) secured a berth in the 3A state semifinals and advanced to the regional championship game today against Tunstall.
TA ended Byrd’s season in the regional quarterfinals last year.
“They beat us three years ago and last year,” Boothe said. “We had a little – I wouldn’t say bad blood – we had a little rivalry going. …We caught a couple bad breaks early in the season. Now we’re starting to catch big breaks.”
TA ended its season with a 20-5 record.
Seeking their first state appearance since winning back-to-back championships in 2007, the Knights instead suffered their second season-ending walk-off in four years. In 2011, TA lost in the regional semifinals 4-3 against Northside on a hit batsman in Penn Laird.
Hanifee said he didn’t expect to be called upon until Coach Hanifee pointed at him.
“I’m not really a pitcher,” Evan Hanifee said. “I was ready to compete and give us a chance in the eighth inning. At that point, it wasn’t really pitching mechanics. It was just wanting it. That’s basically what it came down to.”
TA led 4-1 on Wednesday before thunderstorms forced the game to be suspended in the bottom of the fifth inning, with no outs and Byrd’s ninth hitter – Joey Beckman – on second base. That forced sophomore starter Brenan Hanifee off the mound when the game resumed Thursday. Virginia High School League pitching regulations require mandatory rest after throwing five innings on one day, with one pitch constituting an inning.
TA senior left-handed ace Eric Yankey – who wasn’t available Wednesday after throwing seven innings Monday – faced the top of Byrd’s order. He minimized damage to one run in the fifth over two innings of relief, leaving with a 4-2 lead after hitting his innings limit. Brenan Hanifee, who moved to shortstop, got out of the sixth by turning a double play and fielding a groundout.
With his team trailing 6-2 after a two-run single by Abernathy, Byrd’s starting pitcher Reed Cooper and Beckman hit back-to-back singles off Abernathy in the bottom of the seventh. Junior shortstop Dean Hermanson – who went 3-for-3 – drew a full-count walk to load the bases with no outs. Senior second baseman Rustin Horne followed with a line-drive RBI single past Abernathy’s head to make it 6-3, beginning TA’s carousel of relievers. Boothe then tied the game with his bases-loaded double.
He advanced to third base on a Tanner Willis groundout before scoring the winning run.
“They came in today wanting to get back in the game really bad,” Evan Hanifee said of the Terriers, who got the leadoff man aboard in all but the fourth inning.
Junior right-hander Ben Belcher earned the win, allowing two runs over the final two innings on two hits.
It was a tough loss made tougher for TA’s talented group, which had state aspirations all year long.
“Without question, this is the greatest group I’ve ever coached and I’m not sure I can ever even duplicate it, to be honest,” third-year coach Sean Hanifee said.
Evan Hanifee led the Knights at the plate, going 2-for-2 with an RBI double in the second inning that put TA ahead 3-1. The James Madison University-bound third baseman was also walked twice (once intentionally) and scored twice.
TA jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a two-run double by junior center fielder Lucas Clark, who made it 3-1 when he singled to right field and scored on the same play courtesy of two errors. The junior center fielder finished 2-for-3 with two runs.
But it all unraveled in the seventh for the Knights, who have now come up one win shy of the state tournament four times in the last seven seasons.
“You have to finish,” Sean Hanifee said. “That’s the bottom line. We didn’t finish.”
Turner Ashby 211 000 2 – 6 6 1
William Byrd 100 010 5 – 7 11 2
B. Hanifee, Yankey (5), Abernathy (7), Je. Showalter (7), E. Hanifee (7) and Warner; Cooper, Belcher (6) and Harron. W—Belcher (5-3). L—Je. Showalter (0-1).