Raiders persevere to win second title
Published 10:10 am Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Brynner Porter wasn’t coming out of the game. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Southampton Academy Raiders, including Porter, went up to the plate and were sat down in order by Thomas Chisam of Walsingham Academy.
The coaching staff was hoping for more than a 3-2 lead going into the top of the seventh — half an inning that could decide whether the Raiders would win the championship or go bust in the big game.
Last year, Southampton Academy was in similar spot against a different team, the Fuqua School Falcons. Both Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division III Championship games were in Shepherd Stadium in Colonial Heights, and in both games Southampton Academy trailed early only to mount a comeback late.
Porter lost it in the eighth against Fuqua, but during his senior campaign he wasn’t prepared to let it slip away.
“He wanted it is bad as I did,” Raiders head coach Tim Nixon said. “I knew what kind of pitcher he was, and that he was in good shape. I was comfortable with him on the mound.”
For his first batter, Porter had to battle Chisam, who was hoping to win it for himself with a hard ground ball down the first base line. Sophomore first baseman Brooks Holland, however, was there and made the stop. He tossed the baseball to Porter, and the Raiders were only two outs away.
Next up to the plate was senior second baseman Jack Keating, who on the 1-0 pitch swung and drove a deep line drive over right fielder Ethan Edwards’ head. The senior was able to get to the ball fast enough to stop Keating at second, but the potential tying run was in scoring position with only one away.
Jack’s brother, Ryan, the senior catcher, was looking to drive him in. Porter said the man on second was trying to break his concentration, but he wasn’t going to be easily unravelled.
“Just throw strikes,” was all Porter had on his mind.
And the right-handed pitcher sent Ryan Keating back to the dugout on three pitches — the last one with the batter looking — for his fifth strikeout of the day.
Junior Beau LeJeune was the only person standing between Porter and redemption. The outfielder had already brought the Trojans back into the game in the top of the fifth inning, when a one-out bloop single to center field gave Walsingham a 2-1 lead.
Before this duel could happen, the Raiders had been in need of a little offense to get back in it. Much of the game had been spent tied or down a run after Walsingham’s Chisam started the festivities off with a triple.
The lefty had given the Raiders trouble with his off-speed pitches, ultimately striking out six. Southampton finally got something going in the bottom of the fifth, when Porter reached on a double that bounced off the left field wall. Freshman Michael Smith intended to sacrifice bunt him over, but the ball was expertly dropped down the third-base line and senior Paul Parker came to the plate with two on and no outs.
The second baseman put an infield drive between third and short to tie it up at 2-2.
With runners on first and second, junior Andrew Lowe was asked to bunt them over. But he got under the pitch and popped it up. It dropped, but Smith was thrown out at third.
In the next at-bat, junior third baseman Jackson Smith battled over five pitches and drilled one to second. Lowe was thrown out at second, but Smith beat the throw to first and saved the inning.
Senior catcher Matt Rose, with his .500 batting average and four home runs in 58 at-bats this year, was next to the plate. Chisam’s first pitch was in the dirt. Parker said he didn’t hesitate when he took off from third.
“I knew once I saw it hit the dirt that I was going,” he said. “It was just a great team effort to get me in scoring position.”
Smith also moved over from second, and then advanced to third on the 2-0 pitch, which was also in the dirt. With a 3-0 count, Chisam just walked Rose in favor of facing Edwards, who ended the day 0 for 3 after the lefty got him looking on the third pitch.
But off of that effort, the Raiders had what they needed to potentially take home the victory, with two outs and one on second in the top of the seventh.
LeJeune was 1 for 1 on the day, having also been hit by a pitch and launching a sacrifice fly to deep center.
When he hit a long foul ball down the right field line, the Raiders’ crowd got on their feet to cheer on what could be Porter’s final pitch. The count was two balls and two strikes. On the next pitch, the righty missed high, ratcheting up the pressure for himself with a full count.
Nixon was not against walking LeJeune in favor of facing sophomore third baseman Gabe Bono. The five-hole hitter was 0 for 3 on the day with two strikeouts.
But getting LeJeune out was the only thing on Porter’s agenda.
“I wasn’t worried about anyone else,” he said. “I just wanted to focus and get the last out of the inning.”
The next pitch was hit, but the junior was under it and knocked it straight up in foul territory down the first base line. Porter said everything stopped as he watched Holland get below it to make the catch.
Seeing the final out go in the books, Porter tossed his glove high in the air as his teammates raced to the mound for a big dogpile.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “What a game — we finally won one.”
The 3-2 victory brought the Raiders baseball program their second State Championship. This year, VISAA’s Division III had 19 varsity programs, and the Raiders were also successful against NCISAA schools, having won the Battle of the Border Tournament.
The first State Championship came in 2007, back when many of the current Southampton Academy athletes were in middle school. This group of seniors had also been to the big game in 2012 as freshmen but came up short. Members of that class, Porter, Nate Williams, Parker, Masco Barrett, Rose and Edwards, will now head off to college.
Nixon said the seniors were vital, but he wasn’t worried about the future because so were all the other classes.
“We had great senior leadership on this team,” he said. “But I never put the seniors on a pedestal — they worked just as hard during practice as the freshmen. They are all one big team, and we had freshmen who contributed just as much this year as the seniors did to the success.”
After the game, Nixon said he told the group what he’d been telling the now 23-1 team all season long.
“If they stuck together, there was not a better team,” he said. “The only team that could beat us was us. We got down early, but these guys wanted it bad and battled for it.
“They’ve battled all year — it’s just been a great ride.”