SHENANDOAH — T.R. Williams said he felt disappointed at first and even surprised, but the feeling didn’t last long.
Last week, when the Virginia High School League announced that Page County’s Class 2 semifinal game against Lebanon was postponed to June 13, the Panthers’ sophomore said he was upset that they’d have to wait so long to defend their state title.
“That was crazy,” Williams said. “I didn’t really know what to say. It kind of shocked me that they could move something like that for an entire week.”
Once the shock had worn off though and Williams thought about what it meant, he said he realized that it was going to give him a chance to pitch with the Panthers’ season on the line.
That, he said, is just what he wanted and quickly erased the disappointment he had.
“Oh, yeah,” Williams said. “I like it. It’s a great feeling knowing I’ll be able to step up on the mound and have my whole team behind me.”
Williams, a Virginia Tech commit, will take the mound Thursday for Page as it continues its quest to defend its VHSL Class 2 state title against Lebanon’s Matthew Buchanan, a University of Virginia commit, at 3 p.m. at Calfee Park in Pulaski.
It was a surprising benefit of the postponements for both teams as Panthers coach Wayne Comer and Pioneers coach Doc Adams said they originally prepared for the opposing team’s No. 2 pitcher.
Now, they’ll have an opportunity to put their best arms on the mound with a berth in Friday’s state title game at stake.
“We’ll have our best going and they’ll have their best going and the chips will fall where they may,” Comer said. “We’ll see what happens. The rainouts helped us with T.R. being able to pitch. We’ll just take a chance if we can get into the final.”
Williams will enter Thursday’s semifinal with an 8-2 record, giving up just six earned runs on 24 hits and 14 walks across 66.2 innings pitched. He’s struck out 127 batters this season and boasts an ERA of 0.63.
As for Buchanan, who is also a sophomore lefty, he comes in with a perfect 11-0 mark.
“We’re really confident,” Williams said. “We showed what we needed to work on [in the Region 2B championship loss to Stuarts Draft] and we’ve continued to work on it this week. Hopefully we’ll be pretty good to go.”
Tristan Gordon, an All-Region 2B selection at catcher, has been behind the plate the last two seasons for Williams and said his ability to adapt to different batters is what makes him special.
“He just has a knack for it,” Gordon said. “He can deal when he wants to or blow one by you. He just knows when and how to switch on that gear when he has to.”
This isn’t Williams’ first experience on the big stage after leading the Panthers to their second-ever state title last season as a freshman.
He finished last year 12-0 with a 1.36 ERA, 141 strikeouts, 14 walks and 37 hits allowed in 77.1 innings.
“It’s a very familiar feeling,” Williams said. “It’s just another game. I just have to take care of business. [Last year] helped me a lot. It showed us that we could really do it. It makes me more comfortable on the mound this year and I kind of know what to expect.”
The soft-spoken Williams doesn’t like to talk about himself a lot, he said.
He often brings up the play of his teammates when asked questions about his own abilities and has a calming demeanor on the mound, which is beneficial in a lot of ways according to his teammates and coaches.
“I think it helps him a lot,” Gordon said. “He’s younger now, but if he ever lost his calmness, it might get bad. He could get wild or something, but he doesn’t do that. He just stays cool.”
Comer, who is in his fourth year coaching the Panthers and won a World Series title with the Detroit Tigers 51 years ago, said Williams has all of the necessary tools to be successful.
“He doesn’t get upset,” Comer said. “I’ve never seen him upset in the two years he’s played for me. He’s around the plate with his pitches and if the umpires squeeze him a little bit, it doesn’t upset him that much. He just keeps battling.”
Williams said his favorite pitches are his slider and curveball, but added that he can use a variety of moves to his delivery off the mound as well.
He said getting loose in the bullpen is a big key to his daily routine and once that is complete, “I just go out there and deal.”
“He’s a gamer,” Comer said. “He’ll go out there and throw strikes. He’s just a tough, tough competitor.”
When Williams is on the mound, Gordon said it puts a different type of confidence in the Page dugout and allows the hitters to approach the plate more relaxed.
Often times this season, with Williams on the mound, the Panthers have had three- or four-run innings early in games and that has allowed the sophomore to coast.
“I think it means a lot to him when we do that,” Gordon said. “He doesn’t have to spot up as much. He can throw, pitch, do whatever he has to do. He just gives us a big boost.”
Williams has had a big role at the plate, too, though.
He’s hitting .385 for the year with four homers and 21 RBIs.
“He’s probably one of our better hitters or maybe our best hitter,” Comer said. “He puts the bat on the ball and he knows the game, knows how to play the game. He’s a very coachable kid and I’m just fortunate to have a player of his talent.”
He was voted the Region 2B Player of the Year and was a first-team selection at both pitcher and first base. He was the only player to earn first-team honors at two positions.
“It’s a great thing to be a two-way player,” Williams said. “I want people to recognize that I can do a lot more than pitch.”
While Williams’ abilities as a hitter are appreciated by his teammates and coaches, it’s undoubtedly his abilities on the mound that give Page confidence heading into Thursday.
Now that the shock of the postponement is over and the Panthers have had time to focus on their upcoming game, Williams said he’s happy that he’ll have the ball in his hand with Page’s season on the line.
“It’s really special to our whole team,” Williams said. “It means a lot that we’re back in it. We’re going to do whatever we can to win another state championship.”