South County baseball is no stranger to high-scoring affairs. The Stallions have scored 10 or more runs in 16 of their 27 games played this season.
So when the Stallions found themselves trailing 9-4 Tuesday evening in the fourth inning of the state quarterfinals, head coach Mark Luther remained calm, knowing that his team was still in the game.
“One thing nice about it is, we’ve been down 9-4 earlier in the year against other people, so we know we have the ability to come back,” said Luther.
“We are going to put the ball in play against a lot of people. We had our nerves early, but we kept our composure and kept on playing.”
Playing in front of their home crowd, where the atmosphere rivaled that of a state championship game, the Stallions defeated Nansemond River High School 12-11 in a thriller.
Any hopes of a pitcher’s duel quickly dissipated as the two teams had already combined for nine runs by the top of the third inning. South County’s Tyler Frazier struggled with his control at times, surrendering a three-run homer to Nansemond River’s Zach Vann in the game's opening inning.
Upon giving up another hit to Vann, a grand slam, Luther decided to pull Frazier after the fourth inning, leaving Kansas City Royals draftee Evan Beal to close out the rest of the game.
“Tyler got through four [innings] just to get enough for Evan to be able to go three innings,” Luther said.
Nearly three hours before the start of Tuesday’s game, Beal and his family sat anxiously at home, awaiting word from the Major League Baseball (MLB) draft. Around 3:30 p.m., he was officially drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the eighth round as the 246th pick.
“It was really great. I was just sitting there waiting for it.” We heard ‘Beal’ and we just started freaking out,” said an elated Beal.
Despite the excitement generated by the afternoon’s events, Beal would not allow himself to lose focus on the game.
“I still have to come out here and take care of business,” Beal said.
Trailing by 5 at the bottom of the fourth inning, South County’s bats erupted. Alex Carrington and Mike Perez hit home runs in a six-hit, five-run Stallion rally to tie the game 9-9.
Beal took to the mound in the fifth and was met with cheers from South County fans acknowledging his recent achievement.
Showing no signs of anxiousness, he struck out his first two batters and forced his third out on a pop-up to right field, all in just nine pitches.
“I was a little concerned about where his focus might be," Luther said. "We’re very proud of him and he was excited about it. But I was wondering where his mental approach was going to be today."
The Stallions took a 10-9 lead in the bottom of the sixth-inning after catcher Mike Perez sent a towering homerun sailing over the field’s 360-foot marker.
With a runner on base and the seemingly final Nansemond River batter at bat, the Stallions needed just one more strike to secure victory. But that was not the case. In just his second hit allowed all game, Beal surrendered a two-run home run, giving Nansemond River the 11-10 lead.
Three outs away from an early tournament exit, Mike Perez had other plans in mind.
“I was just trying to put something in the air to get a sac fly to get the tying run in. Once I got two strikes, I tried shortening up to just put it in play and try to get the run as much as I could,” said Perez.
As two Stallion runners stood on base, Mike Perez delivered the game-winning walk-off single. As Perez’s shot landed perfectly to a gap in deep right center, the South County dugout burst into cheers as the Stallions won 12-11.
Perez finished the evening 5 for 5, hitting two home runs and drove in five RBI.
“We’ll take it [the win], enjoy it for the night, and then we’ll get back to business tomorrow,” said Luther post-game.
South County advances to Friday’s state semifinal where they will face James River High School at Westfield High School in Chantilly.