STUARTS DRAFT — After falling in the state quarterfinals a year ago, the Stuarts Draft High School baseball team cleared that hurdle Tuesday night, advancing to the Class 2 state semifinals, defeating visiting Nandua 8-4.
After the Warriors from Accomack County tied the score late, the Cougars put up four runs in the top of the sixth and held on in the seventh for the victory.
"Nandua did a good job of coming back, we were able to minimize the damage and come up with some big two-out hits," said SDHS head coach Josh Podgorski, who was named Region 2B Coach of the Year. "Two-out hits in baseball are huge."
Until the Cougars' sixth-inning rally, the outcome was very much up in the air.
Dustyn Fitzgerald led off with a base hit, stole second and eventually would come around to score the winning run, after a walk to senior second basemen Aric Gutt a sacrifice fly by Henry Cook, a couple of miscues in the field by Nandua and a hit by Boogie Saunders capped off the rally.
In relief of starting pitcher Trip Christian, Zane Armstrong came in to pitch the final two innings and shut down the Warriors' bats.
"After they came back, we were able to put the pressure back on them," Podgorski said. "I was very pleased with the way we hung in there."
The Cougars (19-8) got on the scoreboard in their first at-bat, only to see the Warriors tie the game up with two runs in the top of the third.
Nandua edged ahead with a single run in the top of the fourth, but Gutt's two-out double in the bottom of the inning send the Draft back ahead.
"This is a big accomplishment for us," Gutt said. "I have to thank my teammates."
Nandua tied the game in the top of the fifth, before the Cougars put the game away with their big rally in the sixth.
"I told the kids that they are making memories and they should be allowed to enjoy this. For four months we're family," Podgorski said. "Nandua was a gritty bunch just like us. It was a good matchup."
This will be Stuarts Draft's first trip to the state semifinals since 2003. They lost to Goochland 1-0 in the quarterfinals last season.
First pitch against Chatham will be 1 p.m. at Radford University on Friday.