ROANOKE – After spotting Turner Ashby High School a pair of four-run innings, Conference 32 champion Hidden Valley never threatened to become the first 3A baseball team to beat Eric Yankey this spring.
And, with a nine-run lead through three innings, the Knights were confident they were headed back to the regional semifinals for the second straight season.
“We felt like nothing could beat us,” TA sophomore right fielder Trent Abernathy said. “We knew nothing could beat us, with Yankey being as dominant as he is and with us giving him that lead.”
Yankey threw a complete-game four-hitter with 11 strikeouts, and the Knights bashed nine of their 13 hits during the first three innings to cruise to a 9-0 win over Hidden Valley in the 3A West regional quarterfinals Monday.
TA (20-4) will face William Byrd – which beat Brookville and won the Conference 31 title as the No. 4 seed – at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Casey Field in Covington. Last season, the Knights beat Byrd 11-6 in the regional quarterfinals before undefeated Amherst ended their season.
They’ll have to try to get by the Terriers (14-10) without the pitching of Yankey, who improved to 10-1 with 123 strikeouts and a tiny 0.65 ERA. The James Madison University commit is now 6-0 against 3A opponents, giving up just four runs on 14 hits combined.
For the second time in three elimination games, the Knights went to Yankey, who gave them a much-needed lift after their 10-3 loss to Western Albemarle in the Conference 29 championship game Thursday.
“We didn’t want to leave anything up to chance,” TA assistant coach Luke Foss said. “And if we were going to go out, we wanted to go out with our best.”
With TA coach Sean Hanifee serving a mandatory one-game suspension after being ejected Thursday against Western, the Knights came out swinging. Abernathy went 3-for-4 with an RBI single in each of the first two innings as TA took an 8-0 lead.
“Two plays gets you out of those innings,” HVHS coach Jason Taylor said. “We didn’t make them and they capitalized.”
Sophomore shortstop Brenan Hanifee capped a four-run first inning with a two-run double, but was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple.
It didn’t matter.
Yankey led off the second inning with one of his three hits and second baseman Ross French followed with a single to turn over the order. Then, senior third baseman Evan Hanifee walked on four pitches to load the bases with no outs.
Senior left fielder Jordan Elyard delivered with a two-run single up the middle, and junior center fielder Lucas Clark and Abernathy hit back-to-back RBI singles to make it 8-0.
Clark’s hit chased Hidden Valley left-handed starter Luke Marston. Through three innings, the Titans had thrown 82 pitches. Yankey had 32 in that span, and he threw 64 percent of his 92 pitches overall for strikes.
Titans relievers Harry Preas and Nic Elder allowed one run while scattering seven hits. But the damage was already done.
And Yankey wasn’t budging on a hot evening with temperatures in the 80s.
“I felt about the same throughout the whole game,” said Yankey, who retired 10 consecutive batters after giving up a leadoff single in the first inning. “At the end, I was trying to give it everything I had.”
Senior center fielder Hayes Nelson – the Conference 32 Player of the Year who has a baseball scholarship to Longwood – went 2-for-3 to lead the Titans, who finished with their best winning percentage in program history at 17-3-1.
“You’ve got to put it in play, and we have all year up until this point,” Taylor said. “But again, he’s the best pitcher we’ve seen.”
Turner Ashby 441 000 0 – 9 13 0
Hidden Valley 000 000 0 – 0 4 3
Yankey and Warner; Marston, Preas (2), Elder (4) and Utermark. W—Yankey (10-1). L—Marston (na).