Madison County baseball had every reason to believe its Cinderella bid in the regional tournament was due to come to an end in the Region 2A East semifinal round.
The Mountaineers twice were down to their last out, even their last strike, in the seventh and final inning against visiting Randolph-Henry. The Statesmen, with a gaudy record of 20-2, held a one-run lead with hard-throwing righty Josh Jones on the hill to close things out.
Thanks to a fortunate bad hop and a defensive lapse, the Mountaineers (12-12) tied it in the seventh. That set the stage for a walk-off RBI single from Chris Smith in the bottom of the eighth, giving Madison a wild 4-3 victory and a spot in the Group 2A state tournament.
Smith’s winner, a frozen rope to left-center field, plated Isaiah Breckenridge, who had started the inning with a single. Chase Berry bunted him over to second, then a fielder’s choice put Breckenridge 90 feet away. Smith, who hadn’t reached base in four at-bats, worked the count full before sending Madison to states.
“It was my third time up against [Jones],” Smith said. “My first couple swings I had my timing down, I was just waiting for something to hit. With that good of a pitcher on a 3-2 count, he’s definitely going to be throwing a strike.”
After Jones retired the first two Madison batters in the seventh, star Isiah Smith, playing in what was nearly his last athletic event at the school, stepped in and reached when Randolph-Henry first baseman Kendrick Goldman got fooled by a slow ground ball, keeping Madison alive. Then, Jones attempted to pick him off and the throw got away, allowing Smith to advance to second. Eli Estes then hit a groundball to short that should have ended the game, but the throw went way over Goldman’s head at first, allowing Smith to score and giving the Mountaineers new life.
Madison had a chance to win in regulation, but Jones fanned Cobi Alexander with the bases loaded to keep Randolph-Henry alive. The Statesmen stranded two runners in the top of the eighth, missing a chance to regain the lead. They wouldn’t get another shot.
“Baseball’s crazy,” Madison head coach David Londrey said. “You never know what’s going to happen in a given moment. The boys never quit. We had chances all game long. We put pressure on them all game long and I was proud of that. The balls fall sometimes, sometimes they don’t. Finally they fell for us.”
The visitors from Charlotte County took an early 1-0 lead in the first, but the Mountaineers tied it in the second thanks to three walks and a single by Berry. Statesmen starter Carter Strickland struggled to find the strike zone all night, walking seven batters before being lifted after three innings.
Randolph-Henry moved ahead again in the third on a sacrifice fly by Jackson Webb, but Madison struck right back on an RBI groundout by Alexander which scored Estes to even it after three. An RBI single by Raleigh Duffer in the top of the fifth pushed the Statesmen ahead a third time, and neither team threatened again until the climax.
Madison starter Zach Adams pitched four innings before giving way to Hunter Smith, who earned the win for the Mountaineers, who improved their record to 9-13 on the season.
“It’s tournament time,” Londrey said. “Everyone starts with a record of 0-0. We had some rough spots at the beginning of the season, but that’s what the tournament is for. The last couple games, we’ve played some of the best baseball I’ve seen us play.”
The Mountaineers return to action on Friday when they travel to Goochland for the Region 2A East title. Regardless of result, they will advance to the 2A state tournament.