SALEM—Spotsylvania was visiting for the first time, so it was only natural that coach Travis Payne wanted his Knights to take in the scenery.
Beyond the wall at Kiwanis Field, the Blue Ridge Mountains painted a hitter’s backdrop that could have been plucked from a Bierstadt—or maybe Bob Ross.
But Payne meant the full panorama. It included the legion of supporters who trekked three-plus hours on a Friday morning for the privilege of sitting on stone bleachers behind the first-base dugout.
Viewed through that lens, Spotsylvania’s 1–0 loss to Turner Ashby in the 3A semifinals fades into a 75-minute snapshot of swings and misses. The bigger picture—of the program’s first trip to states—will last much longer.
“When we got there to the end, I told them, ‘Look around, look where we’re at, the entire county behind you,’ ” Payne said. “It’s an accomplishment to get here.”
The setting was also ideal for a pitchers’ duel. A pair of Division-I prospects—Spotsylvania’s Daniel Brooks and Turner Ashby right-hander Justin Showalter—dazzled in allowing two hits apiece. Both pitched complete games.
The joust between Knights’ hurlers (both schools claim the mascot) featured a contrast in styles. Brooks, a George Mason recruit, leaned on an electric fastball that helped him record 10 strikeouts.
“My adrenaline was just going,” Brooks said of the matchup. “I just wanted to get the ball and keep dealing.”
Meanwhile, the James Madison-bound Showalter pitched to contact, using a fuel-efficient 68 pitches, 52 of them strikes. He walked just one.
But both arms entertained equally.
“It was fun to watch as a coach,” said Turner Ashby’s Tommy Armstrong. “Two great defenses and guys that could swing the bat not necessarily getting hits. It was one of those things where we knew the first team that was going to break it open was going to get the win.”
Turner Ashby (22–3) found the decisive opening in the bottom of the sixth. Cody Warner drew a leadoff walk and stole second. Following a strikeout, Waring Garber laced a one-hopper past shortstop. With Warner charging around third, Spotsylvania left fielder Blake Boggs crow-hopped and fired home. His throw was on-target—but slightly high—and catcher Ethan Gallihugh couldn’t apply the tag.
Jon Rivard and Dale Roop singled for Spotsylvania (15–10), which saw its best opportunity in the top of the third. Boggs led off the frame with a walk before Roop sequestered a push bunt between three Turner Ashby defenders.
Facing a jam with no outs and runners on first and second, Showalter induced back-to-back groundballs, the second of which went for a 5–3, inning-ending double play.
An aggressive streak at the plate helped Spotsylvania reel off eight straight wins and qualify for the state tournament. On Friday, though, Showalter turned the Knights’ eagerness against them.
“He got in a rhythm, and we just couldn’t break it up,” Payne said.
As his Spotsylvania players lingered in the dugout for several minutes after the game, their fresh pain outweighed perspective, by a long shot.
But that perspective will come, in due time.
“When they get older and come back, they can look in the trophy case that they were the first team in Spotsylvania baseball history to make it to states,” Payne said. “And that’s something to tell your kids about.”
JUSTIN SHOWALTER and Kyle Eagle. DANIEL BROOKS and Ethan Gallihugh.