It was a battle, but that’s what you’d expect from a team stacked with underclassmen like William Monroe. The Dragons trailed for the bulk of their Conference 28 quarterfinal with Culpeper. But thanks to a 2-run homer from Zach Miller, Monroe rallied in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead and ultimately hung on for a 4-3 win to inch one win closer to a seventh straight region bid.
“That’s the best number seven seed in a conference tournament since I’ve been a coach,” said Monroe coach Mike Maynard. “That’s a great baseball game. We knew we were in for a war. Our guys grew up a little bit tonight.”
With the Blue Devils leading 3-2 going into the fifth. Blake Shifflett drew a leadoff walk. Two batters later, Miller came to the plate, crank a shot deep to left field and with the ball glancing off of the defender’s glove on an attempt at the fence, it was a 2-run home run to make it 4-3.
Reliever Reilly Owen did not give up the lead. In the sixth he worked out of a jam with the tying run at third and the go-ahead at second when he got a 2-out pop fly to right field. In the seventh he sat down all three batters to pick up the save.
“We knew we had Reilly on full rest and he’s been our 1A all year,” Maynard said. “We planned to go to Reilly and give them a different look, keep both (he and R.J. Payne) rested.”
Culpeper took a 1-0 lead in the first on a single, a walk and an error that allowed Eric Wilson to score. Monroe answered with a Braydon Collier walk and stolen base. Two batters later R.J. Payne singled Collier home.
The Devils returned fire in the second with a single from Brady Richardson and then two errors made it 2-1. In the third Ivan Arzola was hit by a pitch and then an RBI double from Bradley Martin put Culpeper up 3-1. In the third, after a Shifflett walk with one out, Miller delivered an RBI single to cut it to 3-2.
And so there it sat until Miller’s clutch homer in the fifth.
“I just went up there seeing fastballs, that’s what they threw me all day so it was about getting a base hit to help the team,” Miller said of his jack. “I got lucky, hit a home run. That was it. It was an in the moment thing. This is my first year here and I’m just having fun. We were losing hope in the game but Reilly coming out and doing his thing got us going.”
The Dragons face the winner of James Monroe and Warren County on Tuesday at home in the Conference 29 semifinals.