By Matthew Yoder —
Nandua’s run through the regional playoffs ended Thursday night with a heartbreaking 4-5 loss on the road in Poquoson. The Islanders scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh to stun the Warriors, and in doing so became the 2021 VHSL Region 2A Champions.
The Warriors built an early lead scoring two runs in the first inning. Luke Parks set the tone, sending a two-strike single up the middle. Likewise, Tyler Greene defended the plate with a two-strike single of his own, putting two on base for Brandon Adamos, who delivered with an RBI single. Greene and Adamos advanced following a throwing error by Josh Markley, and Dylan Marshall made the Islanders pay for the mistake with an RBI ground out.
The Warriors added two runs in the second inning after Ben Stodgill got a rally going, legging out an error by third basemen Robbie Check. Parks again singled up the center and was followed by back-to-back RBI singles from Everett Savage and Greene, pushing the Warriors’ lead to 4-0.
On the mound, Cade Williams was hitting his locations and kept the Islanders off the board the first two innings. Williams found trouble in the bottom of the third, walking Chase Horton, then allowing a single to right off the bat of Justin Bradshaw. The next batter, Markley, hit it a ball past second base, bringing home Horton for the Islanders’ first run. Williams then hit Check to load the bases, and the Warriors nearly turned a ground ball by Cianan Moaratty into a double play but failed to convert, and in the process, two runs scored to narrow the gap to the slimmest of margins.
As the Islanders were making a comeback, the Warriors’ bats began to get cold at the approach of the crafty left-hander Wyatt Helsel. Helsel relieved starting pitcher Max Fritts in the top of the third inning and proceeded to spend the next three-plus innings frustrating the Warriors at the plate. Helsel strung together a pair of 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and the fifth with accurate command.
During the same stretch, Williams matched Helsel toe-to-toe with equally precise command and great velocity. Williams fanned a pair of Islanders hitters to end the fourth, and topped that by striking out the side in the fifth, with both off-speed pitches and heat, as he appeared really dialed in those innings.
The Warriors’ effort to put insurance runs on the board was further thwarted by the sidearm reliever, Bradshaw, who spelled Helsel in the sixth inning. Bradshaw came in after Dylan Ross led the sixth with a single off Helsel, but his teammates weren’t able to bring him home.
The Islanders, too, threatened in the bottom of the sixth, after Moaratty reached on an errant throw by Marshall at third base. Kai Baker came in to pinch-run and had thoughts of stealing second, but Williams caught him lunging and picked him off in a brief rundown for the second out of the inning. Williams then walked Isaiah Dickerson and hit Nick Mastro Jr. with a pitch, prompting a change on the mound.
Savage came in from the outfield but had command issues in both his warmup and against batter Gabe Ford. Savage walked Ford on four pitches to load the bases and started the next hitter, J.W. Rose, with a high ball. Ross then relieved Savage and pitched the remainder of the at-bat to Rose, who showed no intention of swinging. At a crucial point in the game, Ross dug deep and struck out Rose with no margin for error on a full count, inspiring raucous applause from the Warrior fans who made the trip.
Nandua got a base runner in the last inning after Greene was hit by a pitch, but a failed steal attempt spelled the end of the inning.
Ross stayed in to pitch the bottom of the seventh to face the heart of the batting order from Poquoson. Horton led off, reaching first base after being hit by a pitch. Horton later advanced to third on a wild pitch. Marshall made a great play on a ground ball, playing up at third and keeping Horton in check for the first out. An error on a ground ball by Markley to second base, though, brought Horton home to tie the game. Markley then stole second to get into scoring position, and Check delivered one of the Islanders’ only balls out of the infield all game to bring home Markley in dramatic fashion for the winning run.