Sam Crawford admits that he’s more comfortable pitching out of the bullpen than as a starter.
The Georgia Tech product showed that confidence Wednesday night with a standout relief performance on the hill to lead the Charlottesville Tom Sox to their second Valley Baseball League championship in three seasons.
Crawford scattered four hits and struck out five in 5⅓ shutout innings of work as the Tom Sox defeated the Strasburg Express 4-1 in Game 2 of the best of 3 VBL championship series to claim the Jim Lineweaver trophy for the second time in franchise history.
“I’ve always come out of the bullpen,” Crawford said. “I’ve always been more comfortable and I just wanted to get in there and do whatever I could and put up as many zeroes as I could.”
A night after rallying from a five-run deficit to take Game 1, Charlottesville was in total command both on the hill and at the plate.
Coach Corey Hunt’s team scored two runs in the first and added another in the third inning to build an early cushion.
Paul Giacomazzi reached on an error to start the game and scored on David Harwood’s RBI double to left for a 1-0 lead. Two batters later, Thomas Francisco scored on Parker Nolan’s sacrifice fly to centerfield to stretch the lead to 2-0 after one inning.
The Tom Sox bats went to work again in the bottom of the second with some more clutch hitting. Ramon Garza singled with one out and came around to score on Giacomazzi’s base hit to right for a 3-0 advantage.
Carden Mellown started for Charlottesville on the hill and did a solid job of maintaining the lead. He pitched out of jams in each of the first three innings before yielding a run in the top of the fourth. With two outs, Griffin Cheney roped a liner to left field to score Holden Fielder to cut the lead to 3-1.
Mellown allowed one run on six hits and struck out two before giving way to Crawford. With the tying runs on base, Crawford got the next batter to pop out to get out of the jam.
Crawford continued to work the zone and keep the Express hitters off balance for the rest of the game.
“I was getting ahead really well,” he said. “It’s always a key for me if I can get strike one and I know I’m going to have a good day. I was able to locate my fastball pretty well and I had the slider working too.”
Charlottesville added some insurance in the bottom of the seventh with another big hit from the VBL’s leading hitter this season. Francisco ripped a two-out single to center and Cal Greenfield beat the relay throw to extend the lead to 4-1.
Strasburg would not go away quietly, putting runners on the corners with one out in the top of the eighth. After a pop out, Crawford’s fastball eluded the catcher and went to the backstop. Zach Scott tried to score on the play, but Greenfield made a nice flip to Crawford to get him at the plate to end the inning.
Crawford retired the side in order in the ninth with two strikeouts, including the final batter to seal the win.
“It was a little eventful in the bottom of the eighth there, I almost got my leg broken,” Crawford said. “But it was 100 percent worth it.”
“Sam Crawford had an unbelievable night,” Francisco said. “And if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know we could’ve won it today.”
For the Tom Sox, this marks their third straight trip to the VBL championship series and the second time they’ve come home with the title.
It’s something the players take a lot of pride in.
“This has been awesome,” he said. “Just to come out here and play baseball, the game we love, every single day and play it at the highest level. I loved every second of it. Summer ball is a grind and when you make it to the championship, you’re here and you want to win it all.”