Turner Ashby pitcher Eric Yankey delivers during the first inning against Broadway on Tuesday. (Photos by Michael Reilly / DN-R)
BHS’s Jacob Cline pitches against TA.
BRIDGEWATER – Hit around a bit and suffering from inconsistencies in his delivery over the middle part of the season, Turner Ashby High School’s Eric Yankey entered Tuesday’s Valley District semifinal baseball game a changed pitcher, coming off the mound hard with angry body language.
Yet, the junior left-hander focused on the flag pole beyond center field to keep as calm as possible for perhaps the most adrenaline-pumping moment on a warm night at Ray Heatwole Field – facing Broadway’s Forest Miller with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning, protecting a 1-0 lead.
“If I get mad, I usually spike it into the ground or something,” Yankey said. “So yeah, I try to stay calm. … I just looked back at the flag and – I don’t know – just took a deep breath and kept pitching.”
Yankey struck out Miller for the second straight time with runners in scoring position — and ended up with 14 K’s in a complete-game two-hitter as second-seeded Turner Ashby vaulted itself into the championship game with a 4-0 victory over third-seeded Broadway.
The Knights (17-4) clinched a Region III berth with the win and will play top-seeded Spotswood on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. for the tournament title. Meanwhile, the Gobblers (12-10) will regroup to face No. 4 seed Waynesboro in a 4:30 p.m. consolation game (both games will be at Ray Heatwole Field). The winner will join SHS and TA in the regional tournament.
Without much offense Tuesday night, Yankey’s two-hitter sparkled.
“You can’t take one thing away from that kid,” BHS coach Charlie Shepard. “But this score should still be 0-0.”
All four runs were unearned.
BHS senior ace Jake Cline kept the power-hitting Knights off the scoreboard until the fifth and sixth innings, when TA capitalized on a string of errors. First baseman Kenley Lohr fielded a swinging bunt that triangulated three Gobblers near first base – but his throw to the bag didn’t find anybody. Neither Cline nor second baseman Brad Ritchie got into position in time.
“They are routine plays we work on all the time, and we did not execute,” Shepard said. “… We bent and they didn’t, defensively.”
Junior Jordan Elyard scored on the play to give TA a 1-0 lead after reaching on a pinch-hit bunt single for the second time this season and moving up on a sacrifice bunt from freshman Brandon Lambert.
“We don’t play small ball very much,” Hanifee said, “but sometimes you get into situations where you just kind of break out all the baseball cliché stuff and use it.”
The Knights tacked on three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Senior first baseman Luke Shiflett led off with a single. Then TA’s catcher, Ryan Hedrick, reached on a strikeout wild pitch – the ball popped out of Lohr’s glove on the attempted putout – and Cline skipped a throw to first after giving up an RBI infield single to senior right fielder Jordan Showalter.
Shiflett went 2-for-3 and was the only player with multiple hits in a game with no extra-base knocks. Now, Yankey has the Knights, a traditional district power, back in the championship game against Spotswood.
“It feels great,” Yankey said. “We need another chance at them anyways. The third time’s a charm, I hope.”