GREENVILLE — The News Leader’s Randall Wolf walked into the Riverheads baseball press box Monday afternoon in the fourth inning. Wolf, who was photographing the game, asked if there was anything special on which he should focus.
Special? How do you answer that? What Riverheads baseball does is both special and ordinary at the same time.
What the Gladiators were doing on the field Monday — home runs by Chase Armstrong and Ridge Stokes and a 10-strikeout, complete-game pitching performance by Colt Miller – would be considered special by many, but this is a team that has been in the regional playoffs eight of the last 10 years, including the past six in a row. Playing in the regionals has become commonplace for Riverheads.
And Miller, who was named Shenandoah District player of the year recently, is almost automatic on the mound. He gave up a couple of hits and a run in the second inning, but then got 17 of the next 20 batters, including getting the batters in order in three of the final five innings. That would be special if it wasn’t what everyone expected of the senior pitcher.
“It definitely takes me a few innings to get going, definitely,” said Miller. “First two are usually rough, but once I hit the third through seventh I feel great, my arm’s loose and ready to let go.”
When Miller recorded the final out on a grounder to shortstop, his team had another regional victory under its belt, knocking off Luray 3-1 in the quarterfinal round of the 1A East playoffs. Riverheads earned a second-round game currently scheduled for Wednesday against the winner of Central-Lunenburg and Windsor, a game that was rained out Monday and rescheduled for Tuesday.
Monday’s win was the third for Riverheads in four tries against Luray this season, including the second in six days after the Gladiators beat the Bulldogs last Wednesday for the Conference 44 title. Monday’s win ended the season for Luray.
“It kind of reminded me of back in 2011, we played Page six times,” said Riverheads coach Rodney Painter. “We knew what they were going to do, they knew what we were going to do. It came down to making plays and timely hitting.”
The timely hitting came early when Armstrong hit one over the left-field fence for a 1-0 Riverheads lead in the first inning. After Luray tied it in the second, Colt Miller put Riverheads ahead to stay with an RBI double in the third, scoring his brother Taz from second.
“Working with a two-run lead, I can do that,” said Miller.
Luray got one runner past first the rest of the afternoon, stranding a runner at third in the fourth when Miller picked up his sixth strikeout of the game to end the inning.
Stokes then made it a two-run lead for the home team when he hit one out to center in the bottom of the fourth.
“It was huge,” said Miller. “Ridge has been doing it all year. That’s his sixth homer. Chase coming up clutch. We needed a run to get us ahead. When we get ahead we usually don’t look back.”
Miller made sure Luray didn’t get that run back the next at bat, striking out the side in the fifth. He also retired the side in the sixth and then finished things in the seventh, walking one but also picking up his 10th strikeout, three short of his record.
Miller’s own count had him at seven, so when he heard Riverheads public address announcer Jeff Wright announce his 10 Ks after the game, he was a little surprised.
“I was like, ‘Heck yeah, double digits,’” said Miller.
No one had more than one hit for Riverheads and Armstrong was the only Riverheads batter to reach base more than once, walking in the fifth to go along with his homer. But a little offense is all Riverheads needs to go with Miller’s pitching.
Miller enjoyed playing in the middle of the day on a Monday and loved the fact that he’ll get at least one more game in front of the home fans, a game on Wednesday that will give Riverheads a chance to earn a state playoff berth.
“It’s amazing,” said Miller. “You know, traveling you’re on the bus, it could be multiple hours and you get tired. Just knowing you have your home crowd … this was a huge crowd for baseball. It was great.”
Luray 010 000 0 — 1 3 1
Riverheads 101 100 x — 3 4 3
Morrison and Dean. C. Miller and T. Miller.
W — C. Miller. L — Morrison. HR — Armstrong (R) 1st, none on. Stokes (R) 4th, none on.