PULASKI, Va. — Since its relatively recent inception, Division 1 baseball hasn’t always commanded the respect of its Division 2 counterpart. Tuesday’s VHSL Group A, Division 1 quarterfinal game between J.I. Burton and Auburn needed to take a back seat to nobody.
A clutch single by the Eagles’ Brian Gresty with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning plated Cody Akers to lift Auburn to a 3-2 victory over the Raiders at Calfee Park.
“It was a fastball. I just tried not to think too much,” said Gresty, who’d failed to get on base in his three previous at-bats.
Gresty’s RBI was only earned run scored against Burton left-hander Adrian Mullins (3-4), who wrapped up his senior season at the tradition-rich Appalachian League ballfield harmlessly scattering the bulk of Auburn’s 10 hits over 6 2-3 innings.
“That kid who threw for them was terrific. He kept us off balance all day,” said Auburn coach Skip Thompson, who skippered the Eagles to the program’s first-ever state tournament win.
Auburn righty Gabe Spencer (7-1) pitched a fearless game despite a scary slugging display by Burton that included triples by Malik Miles and Matthew Branham.
Burton (12-14) left runners stranded in scoring position in three of Spencer’s five consecutive shutout innings. The Raiders finally drew blood in the sixth when Branham, on board after a deep three-bagger to center, trimmed the Eagles’ lead to 2-1 after Ken Knox put it in play for Auburn’s second error of the night at second base.
Miles, who was left forlorn at third in the first inning when Spencer got out of trouble with three consecutive strikeouts, led off the seventh with a triple and tied it up at 2 on Will Cassell’s sacrifice fly.
As in the earlier innings, things could have gone much worse for Auburn. Spencer, whose two-RBI double in the fourth broke the scoreless stalemate, saw to it that things didn’t.
“He’s not afraid of anything,” said Thompson, whose squad will face William Campbell in Friday’s Division 1 semifinals in Salem. “Whatever situation he finds himself in, he wants to win.”
The Raiders adjusted to their own tough situation. In the second, center fielder Cobye Robbins was lost for the game when he collided with Miles attempting to run down Cody Akers’ base rip to center. Miles moved from left to center and Knox entered and took over in left.
“The guy who makes that call is the center fielder, but (Robbins) didn’t call it because he wasn’t sure he had it. He hit Malik with his shoulder at full speed,” said Burton coach Jimbo Adams, who chalked it up to the vicissitudes of the game.
Akers and Spencer each went 2-for-4 for the Eagles. Tanner DeHart was 2-for-3, including a bloop single that put him on board to score on Spencer’s big double. Caleb Link had a double.
Branham led the Raiders with two big hits, including a double. Kevin Van Ness had two hits, as did Miles.
Adams was proud of his players, Mullins in particular.
“This was a kid who came to us two years ago and told us he’d like to be a pitcher,” said Adams, whose team made its second state tournament appearance in three seasons. “He went into his back yard and made himself into a good one.”