CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – After coming one out away from elimination on Tuesday, the Charlottesville Tom Sox (32-18) advanced to their second-straight Valley League Championship series with a 6-3 win over the Strasburg Express (30-20) Wednesday (August 2).
The game began with a 1-2-3 inning for VBL South Pitcher of the Year Mark Perkins (Rice), as it took just six pitches to get three outs on weak contact. Bailey Peek took the mound for the Express in the bottom of the first, retiring the side efficiently.
The Tom Sox threatened for the first time in the bottom of the second. Jacob Ference (Virginia) was able to reach on a fielder’s choice, and a two-out single by Sergio Rivera (Florida Southwestern) put two on with two out. Rivera was able to stretch the single an extra base, putting runners on second and third. It ended poorly, though, as Garrett Spikes (Georgia) flew out on the first pitch of his at-bat to end the inning without a run.
Perkins ran into trouble for the first time in the top of the third, hitting Cade Parker on a 1-2 slider to give Strasburg their first baserunner. He was able to score on a single by Reece Woody, the Express’ first hit of the game, to give Strasburg an early 1-0 lead.
He ran into similar trouble in the top of the fourth, conceding a walk and a hit-by-pitch before recording an out. He regained momentum, however, picking up his fourth strikeout and helping himself out with a successful pickoff of Victor Castillo at second. With the pressure off, Perkins forced a soft dribbler to short to retire the side.
The Tom Sox bats heated up in the bottom of the fourth, providing five runs that would eventually end up settling the game. Henry Ford (Virginia) began the inning by continuing his flaming hot stretch in the batter’s box, lacing a single to center field. Ference followed him with a hit-by-pitch before Rivera laid down a pitch-perfect bunt down the third base line, loading the bases with no outs and knocking Peek from the game.
New pitcher Drew DeSanto would see instant trouble, as the next four Tom Sox batters recorded RBI to put them in the driver’s seat. The first batter he saw in Brice Martinez (Wofford) drew a walk to put the ‘Sox on the board. Then came Kyle Edwards (Old Dominion), who lined a two-RBI knock down the third base line to make it 3-1. Chris Arroyo (Florida) got on base for the third time with a moonshot double to the center field wall to bring home another runner, and Nathan Fink (Florida Southwestern) drove in Edwards with a groundout to make it a four-run advantage.
Perkins picked up where he left off with another strikeout to begin the fifth inning. While he conceded a single, Edwards stabbed a ball up the middle to make a highlight-reel double play and bring the ‘Sox back to the dugout.
The Tom Sox added what ended up being their final run of the game in the fifth and did so in dramatic fashion. Ford hit a no-doubt home run to left-center field, his sixth since July 24, to pad the lead and give the ‘Sox a five-run advantage. The next batter in Ference was able to reach, but DeSanto was able to get the next three batters out to end the threat.
After a 1-2-3 fifth, Perkins finished his day in the sixth. He led off the inning with a walk and hard grounder down the third base line to place runners on the corners with no outs. Strasburg collected consecutive RBI knocks from Victor Castillo and Michael O’Shaughnessy to narrow the gap to 6-3. A third hit-by-pitch on the night ended the night for Perkins as the ball changed hands to Jeremy Goins (Tampa). He was able to lock down the situation, leaving the bases loaded with consecutive strikeouts.
The Tom Sox were able to load the bases once again in the sixth, but were not able to get any across the plate. Arroyo, Teel, and Ford all drew walks, but reliever Logan Griffith was able to get Ference to fly out and strand the bases full.
Goins continued his dominance in the following two innings, striking out six of the eight batters he faced over the seventh and eighth innings and keeping Charlottesville’s three-run lead intact. He was one pitch away from an immaculate inning in the eighth before a borderline call went Strasburg’s way, and while they were able to get two on in the inning; Goins struck out Parker to end the inning unscathed.
His dominance stretched to the ninth, striking out the first two batters before getting Logan Vaughan to fly out – completing the series comeback and sending the ‘Sox to their fifth VBL Championship series in six seasons.
Perkins and Goins combined for 15 strikeouts on the mound while walking only two. Perkins ended his Charlottesville career with a 1.12 ERA, the fourth lowest in team history (min. 25 IP), while Goins allowed only one hit, no runs, and walked none in his 3.2 innings to earn the save. Said Goins, “My stuff was working from the first inning I came in, and once I got past the first inning jitters, I just knew [to] attack, attack, attack. They weren’t hitting my stuff so I just pounded the zone.”
Five different Tom Sox players collected an RBI, highlighted by Edwards’ two-run single and Ford’s third home run of the series to give Charlottesville enough to advance. ‘Sox hitters struck out only twice on the night while earning nine free passes and left 11 men on base.
The Tom Sox will begin the quest for their fourth Jim Lineweaver Cup on Thursday (August 3), hosting Harrisonburg in game one of a best-of-three championship series. First pitch at CHO Airport Field is set for 7 p.m.
Goins’ ten strikeouts are tied for the second-most by a Tom Sox pitcher, bested only by Jordan Little’s 11 earlier this season.
Ford’s seventh home run of the season is a new single-season Tom Sox record.
The Tom Sox have won both of their playoff series after dropping game one for the first time in their five championship appearances.
Charlottesville pitching limited Strasburg, the league’s best home run-hitting team in the regular season, to only one home run across the three-game series.