NICKELSVILLE — With so many teams ensured Region D appearances regardless of district tournament outcomes, some folks in Southwest Virginia might have wondered if any meaningful baseball was played this week.
For Eastside coach Chris Clay, all official baseball is inherently meaningful.
“It’s a baseball game. Every time we put on the real jerseys, we’re playing to win,” said Clay, whose squad took the Cumberland District tournament championship with a 2-1 win over Castlewood at Keith Memorial Park on Saturday.
The Spartans and Blue Devils will appear in next week’s Division 2 and Division 1 regional brackets, respectively.
The game certainly was significant to the frustrated Blue Devils (8-10), for whom Eastside has — for all practical purposes — replaced defunct St. Paul as their archrival.
The Devils got six innings of three-hit baseball out of Blake Sloce (1-5). The senior right-hander struck out six, walked three and plunked one.
“That may be the third time this year Sloce has lost a game that he deserved to win. We just couldn’t push the runs across with the opportunities that we had,” said Blue Devils coach Jonathan Salyers, who led Castlewood to last year’s Region D, Division 1 title.
The Spartans (14-8) initiated scoring with two outs in the first. Nick Sturgill got on with a walk and advanced on J.D. Slone’s single to right. Sturgill went on to score on outfielder Gavin Collins’ errant throw to second.
In the third, Eastside’s Kobe Lawson got on with a double and moved to third on a balk. From there, it was easy to score on Slone’s fielder’s choice grounder to first.
“Both of their runs off of Sloce today were gift-wrapped,” Salyers said.
Castlewood got a gift of its own in the fourth when Dakota Grizzel scored on an error at short after Tyler Austin knocked Collins into a forceout at second.
The Devils’ best opportunity to overtake Eastside came in the sixth. Sloce got on with a double and went to third on a wild pitch. Collins was on behind him with a walk and stole second.
Sloce bolted for home when Austin put the ball in play but got caught in a rundown.
“I just wanted to score and get us on the scoreboard. I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention. Next thing I know, they were calling me out,” Sloce said.
For Salyers, that out was probably the cost of being aggressive on the basepaths. What he didn’t expect was catcher Wes Yeary’s subsequent throw to third that gunned down the trailing Collins.
Salyers appealed the apparent lack of a tag, but the double play stood. That was good news for Spartans freshman reliever Slone, who protected the win for starter Matt Green (7-1) and collected the two-inning save.
“The only thing I do is rear back and throw. If he misses, he misses. If he swings, he hits it,” said Slone, who struck out two of three batters faced as he retired the side in the seventh.
“That was a great baseball game. I hope there were no Little Leaguers here taking baserunning notes. If so, I’d like to apologize on behalf of Eastside and Castlewood,” joked Clay, who had three of his own runners picked off. “But they were aggressive mistakes. Both teams knew it was going to be tight. It came down to just a couple of plays.”