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HONAKER –– Grayson County carried a 7-2 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning of its Group A Division 2 state baseball quarterfinal Tuesday due in large part to a series of outstanding defensive plays. When a few late clunkers allowed Honaker to pull back to within striking distance, it only served to set up one last gem of a play.
Holding a tenuous two-run lead with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, the Blue Devils turned a nifty 1-2-3 double play to preserve their 7-5 lead and advance to the state semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday at Radford University.
The Blue Devils (19-6) face Region B runner-up Wilson Memorial, which advanced with a nine-inning, 1-0 win over King William.
Centerfielder Landon Frost made a diving catch of a line drive to open the bottom of the seventh but the Tigers (21-4) used a walk, a bobbled double play ball and an infield hit to load the bases. Chandler Miller’s walk off of Grayson reliever Ty Cannaday pushed one run across before Cannaday flagged down a sharp one-hopper from Austin Ray, flipped to catcher Lucas Rudy, who in turn fired to Dylan Morris at first.
“Ty didn’t rush,” said Grayson coach Tiny Funk. “He’s got the ball in his hands as a point guard in basketball, he pitches a lot for us, so it was nice for him to go to Rudy, who is a four-year starter, and back to a senior at first. That was pretty neat.”
It was a bitter end for a Honaker team that had six players who were part a 2011 state title.
“Bart Giamatti said that this game is designed to break your heart, and it does,” a gracious Tiger coach Alex Zachwieja said. “It breaks your heart.”
Two Grayson errors in the sixth had allowed Honaker to cut two runs off of a 7-2 deficit before Rudy ended the inning by gunning down Austin Kiser attempting to take second on a wild pitch.
Up until the sixth the Blue Devils were stellar in the field. Honaker scored single runs in the first two innings and Grayson broke through with Spencer Roberts’ sacrifice fly in the third before the web gems started.
Devil starting pitcher Dylan Isom made a diving catch of a liner to end the Honaker third, and Cannaday, then at second base, laid out for a sharp one-hopper for the third out in the fourth inning.
The bottom of the fifth saw Cannaday barehand a Kiser shot off of Isom’s glove, laying out in the process for the flip to first, and two batters later first baseman Matthew Cornett’s diving stop robbed Tyler Hale of an RBI base hit.
“You wish you could put that in a bottle and do that every time,” Funk said of the glovework.
The highlight-reel bottom of the fifth only magnified the top half of the inning, when three Tiger errors sparked a four-run Grayson uprising. Honaker misplays allowed three of the first four Devil batters to reach as Grayson tied the game at 2-2. It also kept the inning alive for consecutive RBI singles from Roberts, Max Rodgers and Cornett.
“That’s what good teams do,” Zachwieja said. “They make you pay for mistakes.”
Zachwieja, as well as Funk, David Meredith and Van Harris for the Blue Devils, were handling duties normally reserved for head coaches Mike Worrell and Tom Harding. Worrell remains in China to adopt a child there while longtime Tiger boss Harding was away dealing with health issues.
“We all have our duties,” Funk said. “[Worrell] tells us what he wants us to do, and then he allows us to do it. We miss him. His bucket sits in the corner where he would be sitting, and the rest of us go about what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Isom got the win, giving up four runs, two of them earned, on seven hits in five-plus innings. Cannaday allowed one unearned run on two hits for the save. Roberts and Rudy each had two hits and Roberts drove in three runs for Grayson. Honaker got a pair of hits from both Payton Ball and Makenzie Phillips.