VINTON – Ray Harron pitched six strong innings and hit a three-run homer to lead the William Byrd baseball team to a big win over Northside last Friday. The win put the Terriers alone atop the Blue Ridge District standings and enables them to control their own destiny with a week to go.
The 11-5 win was huge for Byrd, who came into the week at 4-1 in district play. Byrd was rained out of a game at Lord Botetourt Tuesday, and the two teams were hoping to play in Daleville Wednesday, weather permitting. Staunton River is here for “Sandlot Night” on Friday and next Tuesday Byrd finishes the regular season at Alleghany.
If Byrd can win all three, the Terriers are district champs. They hold a one game lead over Northside coming into the week and they were up two on LB and Alleghany. If Byrd can win both games this week they can eliminate LB and Alleghany and go to Low Moor next Tuesday with the host team out of the race.
“Alleghany has been a tough place for us to win, and it would be nice if they were eliminated by the time we played that game,” said Byrd coach Chris Carr.
Byrd doesn’t have a problem with Northside. The Vikings have lost just two district games, and both have been to the Terriers. Last Friday Harron did a number on the visitors, even though he wasn’t the scheduled pitcher early in the week.
“(Kevin) Bowles and (Jacob) McMillan have thrown a lot of innings this season and we wanted to rest their arms to keep them from wearing down,” said Carr. “Ray’s a good pitcher, but he’s also our shortstop and I hate to take him off the infield. Plus, if something were to happen to his arm we could ill afford to lose him at short.”
Harron, who usually pitches an inning or two, went six full innings to pick up the win over Northside. Carr credited his overall physical fitness for his durability.
“His work ethic is unbelievable,” said Carr. “After the game he ran poles in the outfield, then after our meeting he went out and ran in the neighborhood. You’d think that would be good enough, but the next morning he ran in a 5-K race our track team was putting on at Green Hill Park! His overall fitness helps him in many ways.”
Harron gave up two home runs, but seemed unfazed. One was a long blast by Northside standout Trent Cundiff.
“Cundiff hit a ball about as far as any I’ve seen at William Byrd,” said Carr. “That thing had to be 420 feet. I know it was over the walking patch behind the left-centerfield fence.
“The good thing is, Ray didn’t let it bother him. The way the bats are these days you’re going to give up some home runs, and you have to just come right back at them. That’s what he did. He was absolutely unfazed.”
Harron got some revenge when his three-run homer put Byrd on top, 11-4, late in the game. Aaron Stidham had hit a three run homer earlier in the game, and ironically Stidham came on to pitch the seventh and close out the win. Joe Stickney got his first work behind the plate as Stidham shed the tools of ignorance to take the mound.
“Joe has been cleared by the doctor, it’s just a matter of getting his strength back,” said Carr of Stickney, who was slated to be the starting catcher before a shoulder injury. When Stickney was relegated to DH duties Stidham became the catcher, and Carr was hesitant to take him out from behind the plate.
“Aaron is a good pitcher and we’d like to use him more, but we really needed him to catch,” said Carr. “If Stickney can catch a few innings we’ll use Aaron more on the mound.”
This week’s pitching rotation was still uncertain. Carr and pitching coach David Mitchell don’t want to burn out McMillan and Bowles before the tournament. And, if Byrd were to slip up and allow Northside to pull into a first place tie, a playoff game would be needed between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the tournament, on May 25.
“We beat Northside twice, but if they tie us for the lead head-to-head doesn’t matter,” said Carr. “I don’t think that’s right, but that’s the way it is.”
Byrd’s only district loss was at home against Alleghany, and with the final regular season game in Low Moor that’s a concern. The Mountaineers have been the toughest team for Byrd to beat over the years.
“Back in the ‘80s they went a long time without winning at Alleghany,” said Carr. “Then, starting about ’92, we started to beat them about every year. In recent years we’ve found it tough to win there again. We have to get over that mystique of playing in Alleghany.”
The Terriers were 11-5 overall coming into this week. Friday’s night’s game at Walthall Park is a doubleheader against Staunton River, with the jayvees at 5 pm and the varsity game to follow. The sandlot teams will be honored between games.