PULASKI, Va.– One step away.
The Lebanon Pioneers pulled closer to their ultimate goal of a state title, handing defending champion Page County an 11-1 setback in the Class 2 baseball state semifinals at Calfee Park on Thursday.
With the tournament delayed because of rain, it was a much anticipated match-up of two of the top pitchers in the state as Lebanon’s Matthew Buchanan outdueled Page’s T.R. Williams.
It wasn’t the low-scoring affair most expected, but veteran Lebanon mentor Doc Adams couldn’t have been happier.
“The one I wanted to see, is the one that I got,” said an ecstatic Adams. “That’s all that matters. Matthew threw a good ballgame, their kid struggled a little bit today, but I know he’s a good pitcher. It wasn’t the pitching duel everyone expected, but I’ll take what I got today.”
Buchanan went the distance allowing only one run. The Panthers did put up a strong effort, only striking out eight times, lower than Buchanan’s usual total. He scattered six hits, with three coming in the fifth inning without a run scoring with an outstanding defense behind him, turning a 4-6-3 double play.
“It was a good game,” Buchanan said. “I gave up some hits that were unnecessary, I threw some bad pitches, it wasn’t my best [game] but I did what I had to do. I had my team behind me making plays the entire game, that’s all I can ask for.”
Buchanan, only a sophomore, remained undefeated upping his career record to 17-0, with 12 of those victories coming this year.
“As I’ve said before Matthew is just Matthew,” Adams said. “He’s a humble young man, that threw the baseball well. He came out today in the biggest game of his life and threw a good game. We got him plenty runs, it was a good day.”
Page County (22-4) scored first in the second inning. Noah Hammer singled to left and Chase Combs was jammed inside but delivered an RBI bloop single just inside the right field line for a 1-0 lead.
Lebanon (24-2) tied it in the bottom of the inning as Logan Smith walked and advanced to second on a passed ball. He scored the tying run on a hit up the middle by Casey White.
The Pioneers took the lead in the third when Buchanan laced a long triple off the wall in right-center and scored the go-ahead run on a soft single by Anthony Houchins. The Pioneers scored their third run when Houchins crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
“I knew I just had to get it in play, anything to get him in,” Houchins said. “I was able to pull a little blooper over third to do the job. It gave us a lot of confidence. We knew if we could get the lead with Matthew on the mound we would be okay, and we would be able to keep putting runs up.”
Lebanon kept adding on with two runs in the fifth, that ended the day for Williams on the mound trailing 5-1. The Pioneers broke it open in the sixth when 11 batters came to the plate and six runs scored on six hits. The big blow was an inside the park homer by Houchins.
“Lebanon’s first six are very good hitters,” said Page County coach Wayne Comer. “We didn’t play very well in the field. I thought the umpire squeezed us a little to be honest, but the best team won.”
Lebanon will play for the state championship today with the first pitch scheduled for noon at Calfee Park against Chatham, an 11-7 winner over Stuarts Draft.
“I’m not going to lie about it, I’d like to get it,” Adams said. “It’s been eluding me so long. I probably won’t know how to act if we win it, but that’s my goal and that’s my kid’s goal.”