By Jerry Reid
A while back the Western Albemarle Warriors were looking for clues to success on the field, but they have now found that elusive “zone” where all nine cylinders are firing. Warriors are riding an amazing roll keyed on lights-out pitching, opportunistic hitting and improved defense. Their epiphany obviously arrived just in time.
Below .500 in Jefferson District play and overall, WAHS was on a four-game losing skid, struggling in every way possible. During that span, they were outscored 34-8. Their last win was a 4-0 victory against Louisa April 14. Sophomore left-hander Derek Domecq shut down the Lions with just two hits, while the Warriors maximized their seven hits to seal the deal.
But before their 180 turnaround, storm after storm with drenching rain played havoc with schedules of all outdoors sports in the area. After 12 days without any action, the Warriors lost one more time in the regular season, falling 8-3 to Powhatan.
Shortstop Chris Hughes, brother of coach Ryan Hughes, is a sparkplug, a Crozet Crazy in the stands at basketball and football, and playing his final year as a baseball Warrior. His passion for the game is obvious, and he was somewhat stumped by his team’s downturn.
Sitting in the dugout at home after an earlier rainout, Hughes was thoughtful about his team, and very concerned with their lack of hitting, particularly with baserunners being stranded. “We’re just trying to relax and have fun—and get back to the basics of baseball. Our pitchers are starting to settle in like we expected them to do. It’s mainly been our hitting that we need to come around on. We’ve left a lot of people on base, a lot of people in scoring position. We need to capitalize on our opportunities and push runs across the plate when they need to be,” he stated firmly.
“We’d been a little unlucky this season. We had games where we’ve hit the ball right at somebody, but we should be playing our best baseball near the end of the season,” Hughes recalled, adding “we’re trying to get hot at the right moment; really get hot going into the playoffs.” Most teams lose good players to graduation. Western lost some really top-notch, hard-to-replace players with big hitting shoes.
“I feel like people were having a little sense of panic when we got off to a little bit of a rough start. They were trying too hard, forgetting that it’s just baseball and you’ve got to have fun, go out and just trust yourself . . . just play baseball and do what you do best and they can get the job done,” Hughes said.
“I try to just keep everybody focused and keep everybody excited, and just keep the main goal at hand, which is to go as far as you can and win a state championship,” he concluded.
Coach Skip Hudgins and his squad commenced to “go far” as sophomore Luke Tenuta threw a one-hit, complete game 12-0 shutout at Charlottesville on May 16. The Warriors then followed up with a 6-0 shutout, one-hit complete game by senior Sam Hearn against Monticello. He carried a no-no into the last inning of this game. Next was the Conference 29 quarter-finals, and sophomore lefty Domecq got the call, scattered 6 hits and went the distance in another shutout performance. In the conference semi-finals, the Warriors relinquished a single unearned run to opponent Turner Ashby, losing 1-0. Hearn again shone brightly with a complete game two-hit effort.
Next up was nemesis Fluvanna, winners over WAHS twice in district play. Getting their shot at making the regionals, the Warriors exacted revenge with a 3-0 complete game shutout, and a no-hitter to boot by Domecq. Five games with only one run scored against you is the very meaning of “being in the zone.”
They did it again at Monday’s scheduled regional championship opening game against Fort Defiance at their place. The Warriors played the role of unruly guest, scoring twice but more importantly holding Fort Defiance scoreless behind pitcher Sam Hearn for their fifth shutout out of their last six games. They were slated to play Rustburg at their place last Tuesday night.
During this hot stretch, senior Henry Kreieinbaum set the record for career hits at 111 in the Monticello game, surpassing Bryan Lescanec’s 2004 mark. He also tied the record for triples with his 12th at Charlottesville. And capping a happy year, he was tabbed as a “preferred walk-on” at James Madison University, with all the possibilities that could bring. Pitching wasn’t the only thing making this late surge happen, as hits were falling in for Domecq, Hearn and Tenuta, along with Hughes, Sam James, Ryan Sukovich, and Matt Mandell. In the Fluvanna game, Mandell produced two beautiful bunts, one that moved runners up and another that scored a run. Plus, the defense settled down and started making more plays.