SHENANDOAH — Wayne Comer said he was comfortable with any of the three.
Whether it was senior Caleb Hilliard or juniors Taran Baker and Chase Combs, the fourth-year Page County coach insisted he felt confident in any of the three to get the job done.
“They’ve done a great job all year long,” Comer said. “They’re all solid. We won’t have a problem with putting any of those three on the mound.”
But then the Virginia High School League announced that the Panthers’ Class 2 baseball semifinal against Lebanon, originally scheduled for noon on June 6 at Radford Univeristy, was postponed an entire week to today a 3 p.m. at Calfee Park in Pulaski, and Comer said he couldn’t help but view it as a positive.
Now, Page will get a chance to put its ace, sophomore left-hander T.R. Williams, on the mound with its season on the line.
The Pioneers, meanwhile, are expected to also start their own stud in sophomore lefty Matthew Buchanan, who is 11-0 on the year with a 0.36 ERA.
“If they beat us, they beat our best,” Comer said. “If we beat them, we beat their best. That’s how you’d like it to be.”
Make no mistake about it, Comer said, his other pitching options have been solid.
Hilliard has thrown 38 innings this year, striking out 35 batters and posting a 2.40 ERA while Combs was right behind him with 37.2 innings tossed, 44 strikeouts and a 1.30 ERA.
As for Baker, he pitched 21 innings, mostly in relief efforts, and struck out 24 batters while compiling a 2.00 ERA for the season.
But Williams is the Panthers’ workhorse after leading them to their second state title in program history — the first being in 2011 — last season in overpowering fashion as a freshman.
Now, he’ll look to the same this season as he faces a Pioneers team that is known for its lethal lineup.
“He’s a very coachable kid,” Comer said. “I can’t say enough good things about him. I’m very fortunate to coach a player of his caliber.”
With Williams on the mound, it will allow the other Page (22-3) players to focus on cleaning up some of their defensive miscues that have showed up at unfortunate times throughout the late portion of the regular season and playoffs.
It also opens up opportunities at the plate, where the players and coaches both said the team seems to play with much more confidence when Williams, a Virginia Tech commit, gets the start.
“We just go out and do the best we can do,” Comer said. “We got some scouting reports. We’ll just go down there and try to do our best.”
Lebanon — the Region 2D champion — has a stud of its own in Buchanan, who is committed to the University of Virginia and pitched five innings in the Pioneers’ 15-1 win over Appomattox in the Class 2 quarterfinals last week.
Buchanan isn’t the only Division I talent on the Lebanon roster, however, as sophomore shortstop Preston Steele is committed to Virginia Tech and brings a strong presence both defensively and at the plate for the Pioneers.
“They have pretty good pitching and they’re [23-2],” Comer said. “Other than that, I don’t know a whole lot about them.”
Lebanon has scored 71 runs over their last five games and their only two losses came in an 11-1 setback to Tennessee High on March 20 and an 8-7 defeat at the hands of Virginia High on May 16.
As for the Panthers, they only have three losses on the year, but all came at inopportune times.
The first loss came on May 9 at Riverheads and snapped Page’s 42-game winning streak, the second was a first-round upset at the hands of four-win Luray in the Shenandoah District tournament and the final one came in an ugly 9-4 setback at the hands of Stuarts Draft in the Region 2B championship game.
“We hadn’t been playing very well the last week of the season and through the district and regional playoffs,” Comer said. “We’ve done what it takes to make the state tournament so I’m pleased with that. Our guys are ready.”
Tristan Gordon, an All-Region 2B selection at catcher, said he believes the team is focused and ready to go heading into today’s game as the Panthers look to win their second straight VHSL Class 2 state title.
“I think we’re going up there to win a state championship again,” Gordon said. “We have a lot of confidence going into this game.”
Lebanon is making its eighth appearance in the state tournament. The Pioneers finished as runner-up in 1991 and 2015, but haven’t been back in state play since.
As for Page, it’s seeking its third state title and second straight, but Comer said he doesn’t put too much focus on any of that.
Like he would have handled the pitching situation, Comer said he just wants all of his players to give it their best effort and if they do that, they’ll be successful.
“I don’t put a lot of emphasis on being there last year, but we got some guys who have experience,” Comer said. “We also got some young guys who haven’t been there, too. We’re going to the best we can do and swing the bats and let the chips fall where they may.”