Chatham hammered out nine hits, including three home runs and for three extra bases, and the Cavaliers rolled to a 10-4 victory over Gate City in Sunday’s VHSL Group A state baseball championship at Radford University Field.
Chatham (25-2) collected its first state baseball title since 1987, dismantling Gate City’s title hopes with a murderer’s row lineup that put on a memorable hitting clinic during its two-day stay in Radford.
“We swung the bats so well all year. The guys have been on a tear,” said Cavaliers coach Chad Anderson, whose sluggers steamrolled Rappahannock 14-3 in Saturday’s semifinals. “The guys got the barrel to the ball.”
Despite being backed by the Blue Devils’ inarguably superior fielders, neither starter Jordan Estepp (9-3) nor reliever Luke Kirk could do much with the Cavs but delay the inevitable. Chatham had a .404 team batting average coming into the semifinals. They finished with 44 home runs on the year.
“They just played a great game today. They hit the ball well. We knew they were a great hitting ballclub. They hit our best,” said Gate City coach Robbie Perry. “When they can hit our best, they’re the best team in the state.”
With painfully fresh memories of Gavin Hylton’s three-run blast to left in the first inning, Estepp gave up a leadoff walk to Hylton in the third rather than give the Cavs catcher anything he might get ahold of. All that, only to face left-handed cleanup hitter Drew Kirks, whose opposite-field shot put Estepp behind 5-2 and ended his time on the hill.
The five walks and one hit batsman reliever Kirk gave up to Chatham were more a testimony to the eventual state champs’ natural knack for protecting the plate. Locating a strike somewhere they couldn’t crush it was no small feat. But the bomb was by no means their only offensive weapon.
Matt Bray, who touched Kirk with a solo homer over the scoreboard in left field in the sixth inning, collected an RBI single in the fourth.
Nine-hole hitter Beau Cassada — a clear fan favorite — collected an RBI in the fifth when he stroked and motored his way to his second triple of the day. The shortstop was subsequently squeezed in by Drew Arnold, who executed Chatham’s second perfectly laid bunt that inning.
Kirks, who went 2-for-2 with a sacrifice fly to go with his homer, was no less manly on the mound. The unbeaten southpaw senior struck out 13 Blue Devils batters and walked only one as he went the distance to collect the 10th and final victory of his senior season.
“Bray was probably considered our ace. But the last two outings for Kirks have been dominant,” Anderson said. “Gate City could swing the bats too. That tells you what Kirks did today. That’s a good-hitting team and Kirks flat-out pitched today.”
Gate (21-6) squandered next to nothing. The Region D champs’ only error was an errant pickoff throw by catcher Derick Miller that didn’t prove consequential. Offensively, the ever-opportunistic Blue Devils capitalized on three of the four errors committed by Chatham.
Dustin Jones’ fly ball to left field came out of the tip of Arnold’s glove in the first inning, resulting in a two-base error. Wes Hughes promptly plated Jones with a double off the right field fence.
Kirk, who went 2-for-4 and scored two runs for Gate City, cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 3-2 in the third when he bolted for home on a Chatham double-play attempt that went awry. Cassada took the blame, but second baseman Greg Doss obstructed the shortstop’s throw to first.
Estepp provided Gate City’s last great act of defiance in the top of the seventh. Kirk, who got on with a single, evaded the forceout at second on Hughes’ subsequent fielder’s choice due to a Doss error. The Blue Devils senior scored them both with a double. It was Gate City’s hardest-hit ball of the day.
“I just saw the ball and knew it was going to be my last hit as a Blue Devil. I just tried to do something with it,” Estepp said. “(Kirks) is a great pitcher and he’s got a great future.”