BROADWAY — As the Turner Ashby huddle broke down and players headed toward the visiting dugout, a straight-faced Andrew Armstrong directed the Knights to grab their belongings and head up the hill.
There was no jumping around and exchanging high-fives with teammates. There weren’t any group pictures being taken by parents on the field. There wasn’t even any sort of recognition by the Broadway public-address announcer about what had been accomplished.
For TA, it wasn’t an accomplishment, Armstrong said. Instead, it was an expectation and a sign of things to come moving forward.
“We like to win and lose with class,” Armstrong said. “Winning the Valley District is a big deal, but for us it’s just a stepping stone to the next level of where we want to get to. We didn’t want to overly celebrate because it is just a regular-season district title. There’s nothing against that, but we’re trying to move past that and get further down the line.”
The youthful Knights showed poise at the plate and got timely contributions from a trio of sophomores to defeat Broadway 4-3 and capture the Valley District regular-season baseball championship — and the Region 3C berth that comes with it — on Thursday at BHS .
Despite having six sophomores and two freshmen on this year’s roster, TA continued its dominating run atop the district after a year of up-and-down play.
“I tried to show our guys that we like to do stuff the right way and this is something we expect,” Armstrong said. “For this group of sophomores — at one point, seven of them were on the field, including a freshman — it’s pretty big for our guys. I told them out there that I’m really proud of this group.”
On a night where the Gobblers honored their three seniors before the game — Bryce Turner, Benjamin Reid and Tanner Morris — it was the sophomore class of both teams that came up the biggest.
For Broadway, it was pitcher Jacob Petersheim cruising through the first three innings, giving up just one hit as he kept the TA lineup off-balance with a variety of pitches.
“We just wanted to play our way, hit the ball and get rolling,” Knights sophomore Jared Peake said. “We just had to grab the momentum back.”
On the other side of the pitching battle, Grant Thomas was effective for TA, but ran into some trouble when Petersheim connected on an RBI double and Ryan Anderson scored Cole Morris off a sac fly to give the Gobblers a 2-0 lead in the second.
In the fourth though, it was Petersheim who suddenly had issues as he walked four batters and gave up a two-run single to Peake that allowed the Knights to score three runs and take a 3-2 lead.
“We kind of hit a bump in the road there,” Broadway coach Tim Turner said. “[Petersheim] felt good. He was throwing well. He kind of lost the strike zone and they took advantage of that. Against a good team like TA, if you let those guys on base, they’re going to find a way to take another base and take another base. In that inning, we kind of lost our traction a little bit.”
Petersheim gave up just one hit in the three-run frame — Peake’s two-run single that sailed over second base and into center field — but hit Hunter Miller with a pitch in the second at-bat and walked three of the next four.
It was an impressive inning for the Knights and showed off the patience they’ve learned to have at the plate — something Peake said they didn’t have early on.
“We go up there and we’re looking for our pitch,” Peake said. “Whatever the best pitch is for our team, we’re just looking to help us out.”
After taking the lead, Peake moved from left field to the mound in relief of Thomas and was just as impressive there, tossing three innings of one-hit baseball.
“He’s a gritty kid,” Armstrong said. “That’s what we try to preach. We like to preach grit with our guys and baseball IQ. A lot of our guys aren’t very big, but we’ll stay in a lot of baseball games.”
Despite not overpowering the Gobblers at the plate, Peake was effective with an off-speed pitch that Broadway’s Bryce Turner said the Gobblers struggled to get ahead of.
“I think he’s a little bit effectively wild,” Turner said. “He throws a lot of balls, but he would come back with strikes. We just couldn’t get anything going off of him.”
The Knights added an insurance run in the sixth when Campbell hit a hard grounder to bring home Antonio Florentino-Sosa and make it a 4-2 lead.
Armstrong then made the bold move of pulling Peake off the mound and throwing Florentino-Sosa out there for the final frame — a decision he said would have been made no matter how well Peake had been pitching.
“[Florentino-Sosa] is our closer,” Armstrong said. “It wouldn’t have mattered if Jared went [perfect]. [Florentino-Sosa] was coming in for the seventh no matter what. Having our guys know where their spot is and what their role is is key for this team.”
At first, the move put the TA bleachers on edge as Bryce Suters was hit by a pitch, advanced to third on a wild pitch and a stolen base, and was eventually brought home off a RBI single from Bryce Turner to cut TA’s lead to 4-3.
In the ensuing at-bat though, Justin Lohr struck out for the second out of the inning.
After Tanner Morris put a second runner on with a single and gave the Broadway fans a little more hope, Florentino-Sosa struck out Cole Morris with a fastball to end the game and seal the win for the the Knights.
“I was a little nervous,” Florentino-Sosa said. “That was tough. That was hard work, but it’s OK for me. It’s been a long year. All year, though, we’ve wanted to win a district championship.”
It was the second straight loss for the Gobblers (17-3, 9-3 Valley) after previously winning 15 in a row and being considered the favorite to win the district title most of the season.
“I felt like we played a good game,” Bryce Turner said. “Baseball is a crazy sport. We just didn’t catch as many bases as they did. I feel like we hit the ball fine, but it’s just baseball, dude.
“We’re still a 17-3 ball club. We’ve been hitting the ball hard the last two games, but we just haven’t been catching any breaks. The worst thing to do is get down about it. We aren’t out of anything. We just have to keep fighting. I feel confident in us.”
That confidence spread to the Gobblers coach, who said he didn’t think his team played poorly against the Knights (14-6, 10-2 Valley) and felt like they just had some tough breaks in a 4-3 loss to Waynesboro on Wednesday.
“We will get this corrected,” Tim Turner said. “We liked how we came back tonight and played hard. … I think we’re going to come out a better team from this. That was a good baseball game. I’m not disappointed in our effort.”
As the Turner Ashby players walked off the field and toward the bus, the Broadway players lingered around the dugout waiting for directions from their coach.
Once the team broke down the huddle, a few of them looked back before heading off to be comforted by parents, friends and fans.
“Losing here tonight sucks, but it gives you the feeling,” Bryce Turner said. “It makes you realize you don’t want to do that anymore. We’re going to have to be a little sharper [in the playoffs], but I feel like we can do it.”
While the emotion of the loss was evident through the faces of the Broadway players, the enjoyment of a win was almost nonexistent in the expressions of the Knights.
Wasting no time in getting off the field, Peake said the team is simply playing like “a good ball team” and has improved to the point where they shouldn’t be considered young or inexperienced anymore.
“We go into each year expecting to do great things,” Armstrong said. “Broadway has a great team. I have a lot of admiration for Coach Turner. That’s a great group. That [game] could have went either way. With us, we don’t expect to win a district title, but we expect to be in the conversation.”
The Knights put themselves in the conversation and ultimately came away with another Valley District regular-season title on Tuesday.
That wasn’t a surprise or an accomplishment to anyone in the Turner Ashby dugout though.
“At TA,” Armstrong said, “that’s just our expectation.”