GREENVILLE — Winning a state championship is hard enough. Defending that championship may be even more of a challenge.
Such was the case for the Riverheads baseball team as they edged visiting Colonial Beach 5-4 in the first round of the Class 1 State Tournament on Tuesday.
A walk-off walk drawn by catcher Forrest Shuey on a 3-2 count forced in Michael Robertson from third with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh in a game which proved to be a nailbiter.
The win advanced the Gladiators to Friday's state semifinal game against Auburn.
"It was good to have a senior (Shuey) up there in that situation," said RHS head coach Rodney Painter. "Forrest has a pretty good eye and it was a close pitch — but he did what he had to do."
The Drifters put up a run in the top of the third, but the Gladiators (24-2), last year's state champions, responded immediately with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
Adam Painter walked and stole second. Grant Painter also drew a walk. Michael Robertson drove in a run with a base hit and another came in on a balk by VCU-bound Colonial Beach pitcher Mason Delane. Robertson later scored on a Beach error.
The Red Pride went up 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth on a walk, hit by pitch, a fielding error and a pair of fielder's choices.
But the Drifters got that run back in the fifth on a nifty delayed double steal and tied the game in the sixth with a pair of runs.
Robertson relieved starting pitcher Elijah Dunlap for Riverheads and shut down the Drifters in the seventh, setting the stage for the Gladiators' winning rally.
Robertson led off with another base hit and after a pair of intentional walks and a fielder's choice, Shuey patiently worked the county until earning his RBI-base on balls.
"At this point, it's survive and advance," Coach Painter said. "They (Colonial Beach) are a good team with a great pitcher and I'm very proud. We've been playing well all year and came up with some big hits. Last year we were the underdogs but this year we have a target on us every game. We have to be prepared for that."
Riverheads will play in the state semifinal game at Pulaski's Calfee Park at 1 p.m. on Friday.