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INDEPENDENCE – In its first two Region C Division 2 tournament games, Grayson County faced teams that would conclude their seasons with a combined record of 36-6.
Five of those six losses, including a pair of win-or-go-home decisions, were at the hands of the Blue Devils.
Grayson County (14-7) held a formidable Chilhowie lineup to three runs through six innings while the Blue Devils used bookend four-run rallies in the first and last innings to power their way back into the region title game, taking a 9-5 win over the Warriors (19-3) Thursday at GNB Park.
Grayson County and Glenvar (14-8), a 7-5 winner over Giles in the second semifinal, met Friday for the championship, marking the ninth straight year that either the Blue Devils or the Highlanders hoisted the champion’s trophy. Grayson sought its first title since 2007 and its 4th since ‘04.
Playing as the visiting team against the top-seeded Warriors, Grayson County scored four times in the top of the first before squandering opportunity after opportunity as Chilhowie closed to 5-3 by the end of the third. Spencer Roberts’ leadoff triple was wasted as the Devils left two on in the second, and the Devils scored a run and had the bases full with none out in the third but couldn’t extend the rally.
“I was thinking later that if we don’t win, we can go back to those couple of innings and think, gosh, what could have been?” Grayson coach Mike Worrell said.
Silent for three innings, the Blue Devils finally broke through in the seventh, starting with Matthew Cornett’s one-out triple. Lucas Rudy doubled home Cornett and Dustin Leonard later chopped a two-run single over third base. Max Rodgers’ sacrifice fly capped the rally, putting the Devils up 9-3 with three outs to go.
“Grayson’s too good a team to hold them down too long,” Chilhowie coach Jeff Robinson said. “They stranded eight runners the first three innings and kept us in it, and it was a matter of time before they put more runs on the board.”
The Warriors got a two-run double from Forrest Haga before Jared Salts fanned Daniel Ashby for the final out.
Pitching less than 48 hours after throwing 49 pitches in the quarterfinals, Salts improved to 11-1 with the complete-game effort, striking out two, walking one and letting his defense do its job.
“He chose not to play basketball this winter so he could get ready to pitch,” Worrell said. “Usually when a kid says that, he gets in the car at 3 o’clock and goes home, but he stayed and he worked all winter. We’re going to use him as an example for years down the road. He’s not dominant but he dominates.”
“He pitches smart,” said Robinson. “He uses his defense, he gets ahead of every hitter, and that’s one thing we didn’t do. Going into the sixth I think he threw 60-65 pitches. Very efficient.”
Tyler Rutherford and pivot man Spencer Roberts turned a huge double play in the sixth that prevented a possible turning point for the Warriors, who have fallen one win short of the state tournament three straight years.
“That was our chance right there,” said Robinson. “We needed to get a run, and it was a big momentum play.”
Grayson sent 10 batters to the plate in the first, putting together two walks, two hit batsmen, three errors and a two-run Cornett single for a 4-0 lead. Cornett, Rudy, Roberts and Rodgers each had two hits for Grayson.