SALEM — Fresh off an adrenaline-fueled sprint to the plate, Turner Ashby senior Cody Warner climbed up from the ground, clenched his fists at his side and tried to unleash a mighty roar.
Except nothing was there.
He’d exerted that energy scoring the run that put TA in the baseball state championship for the first time since 2007.
“It was just an unbelievable moment,” Warner said. “It was like football all over again, running a long touchdown and I can’t even yell, I’m out of breath. I tried to, anyways.”
That moment provided a rush of both relief and excitement for Justin Showalter, who at last had the lead he’d been waiting for.
“That was one of the most exciting times I think I’ve had in baseball, just that feeling of, ‘OK, we’re good now,’” said Showalter, who threw a two-hit shutout. “We’re going to finally get that chance to get done what we haven’t gotten done in a long time, get over that bump we got stuck on last year.”
Another chapter to Turner Ashby’s legendary history in baseball could be added today at 4 p.m., thanks to an exhilarating 1-0 victory Friday over Spotsylvania in a 75-minute 3A state semifinal at the old-school confines of Salem’s Kiwanis Field.
Deadlocked in a scoreless stalemate against SHS’s Daniel Brooks through five and a half innings, TA finally broke through in the bottom half of the sixth on Waring Garber’s one-out RBI single, which brought in Warner from second.
“Just glad to help the team win,” Garber said.
The ball bounced through the shortstop hole into left, and left fielder Blake Boggs’ throw to the plate was in time, but sailed high and couldn’t be handled by catcher Ethan Gallihugh as Warner slid in safely with the tiebreaking run.
Warner had led off the sixth with a walk, battling back from an 0-2 count. Ross Detamore then struck out in a 10-pitch at-bat, during which Warner stole second, and Garber was next to take the batter’s box.
“When he stole that bag, it was almost like we knew that Waring was going to come up with a big hit,” third-year Turner Ashby coach Andrew Armstrong said. “I’m just proud of the way that we fought and grinded the whole time. We knew the first team that was probably going to break it open was gonna take the win, and fortunately for us, it was TA.”
The Knights (23-2) will vie for the 3A crown at 4 p.m. today at Salem Stadium against Riverside (24-3), a 17-6 winner over Brookville on Friday.
Turner Ashby only picked up two hits Friday, both singles off Garber’s bat, and after the second one, Showalter was well-positioned for his 10th complete game of the year.
He admitted the pressure of needing to match the zeroes Brooks was recording was “nerve-wracking,” but he just approached it pitch-by-pitch to mow down SHS.
“The seventh [inning], I felt really good,” Showalter said. “That was probably the best I’ve ever felt going in because I had the confidence I was going to get those last three guys out. We had the run we needed and we’re headed to states.”
Exactly 10 years to the day that Armstrong carried TA to the 2007 state title — a second consecutive championship and the program’s sixth — Showalter turned in the outing of a lifetime, just as Armstrong predicted this week.
The James Madison signee struck out four in his two-hitter, requiring just an economical 68 pitches. Showalter, the Conference 29 and 3A West Region Player of the Year, retired the last 13 batters he faced, a string that started with an inning-ending double play in the third that killed Spotsylvania’s only threat.
Showalter finished his senior season 11-0 and was the best pitcher Spotsylvania (15-9) saw all season, SHS coach Travis Payne said.
“He’s pitched pretty well all year, but I think that’s the best he’s pitched all year,” Warner said.
Brooks was equally impressive in racking up 10 strikeouts against the 3A West champion Knights, but he was ultimately undone by Garber’s single through the hole with shortstop Trevor Croson shaded up the middle to hold on Warner at second.
“It’s baseball. A lot of untimely things,” said Payne, whose team was playing in its first-ever state tournament. “I’m very proud of our guys. I thought we played well, but luck wasn’t on our side today.”
Payne added that TA was “phenomenal” defensively — “and that’s what it takes to get here,” he said — as Knights shortstop Koice Quintanilla and third baseman Garber anchored the steady defense behind Showalter.
“That’s one of the things we take pride in, is pitching and defense, and we did that today,” Armstrong said.
After the game, Armstrong said he hadn’t yet decided who his starting pitcher will be today, although Showalter indicated that Garber would be the choice.
Whether it’s Garber or senior Jesse Showalter, Justin Showalter, who’s ineligible to pitch today against Riverside, said he has a world of trust in either one.
The TA bats, meanwhile, took a step back — albeit against a George Mason commit in Brooks — after consistently manufacturing runs on low amounts of hits in the regional tournament.
Garber said the Knights need to be more aggressive on early-count fastballs, but Armstrong said he was just fine with the offensive approaches the Knights had Friday.
Because they resulted in another win.
“We’ve been scrapping these past three games and just finding a way to get it done,” Warner said. “Hopefully we can get it done in a little more traditional manner where we get a couple more hits and it’s not a scrappy game, but if we’ve gotta play a scrappy game tomorrow, we know how to play it obviously.”