Battling Through: Mavericks erase early deficit to advance to sixth straight final four

Photo by Bart Isley

Isle of Wight came out of its play-in game with Fredericksburg Christian with a 7-4 win in Crozet and the reward was the VISAA Division 2 tournament’s top seed in Miller.


The Chargers saw some momentum carry over in their double header. Isle of Wight jumped out to an early lead, but you don’t win back-to-back state titles and earn the top seed again by accident. The Mavericks answered in kind. The 2-time defending champs put together a methodical attack of manufacturing runs to pick up an 11-5 win and, in turn, earned a sixth straight trip to the semifinals.


“Early we just looked flat and didn’t come out with the emphasis of playing hard nosed,” said Miller coach Billy Wagner. “I give our guys credit for not panicking, getting some things started and working through it.”


The early hole was 3-0 lead the Chargers built up in the top of the first with a single, hit batter and RBI groundout from Andrew Holt followed up by a 2-run double from Bryce Daniels. But Mavericks starter Garrett Payne settled in afterwards and finish as the winning pitcher going 5.1 innings while giving up just four hits, no walks and striking out nine batters.


“(Garret’s) never been through this (tournament) so he’s the guy where we’re going to get you to pitch against all the big guys, the Benedictines, the teams that he’s not used to,” Wagner said. “It’s good to have him in that situation and letting him learn and give him some leeway and say I ‘Hey, I’m not taking you out just because you had a bad inning.’”


Miller’s response offensively came immediately. Ethan Chenault started the first rally off with a double only to have Jack Marshall deliver an RBI single. Vince Dileonardo stepped up and tied the game with his 2-run triple to to left field. With a Henry Hardie RBI single to follow, the Mavericks suddenly had a 4-3 lead to work with going into the second.


“This was big, starting off tough early but all season we’ve shown we’re able to bounce back,” Marshall said. “That’s been our big thing this year. This feels good going into a semifinal with a win like this. With our lineup we don’t strike out much and we put the ball in play so it makes things tough.”


In the second, Miller added a run to its lead after a Jeremy Wagner double and an RBI single from Marshall. Isle of Wight picked the run back up in the top of the fourth to make it 5-4 after a double from Holt and a sacrifice fly to center from Noah Colyer.


The Mavericks blew open the game in the bottom of the fourth. With runners on second and third, Jack Carey smacked an RBI single. Dileonardo hit an RBI single in the following at bat. Lucas Adam and Jacob Exum both eared earned a bases loaded walks. An RBI groundout from Lucas Knight put the Mavericks up 10-4.


The two teams traded runs in the bottom of the sixth and top of the seventh. Miller went up by seven after a Hardie double which eventually led to a sacrifice fly from Knight. A walk and error in the seventh followed by an RBI groundout from Zack Stroud allowed Isle of Wight to cut the deficit back to six but the Mavericks shut the door with a fielder’s choice and then Jack Masloff picking up a game ending strike out.


On the day, Jack Marshall was 3-for-4 with two RBI. Dileonardo and Wagner were each 2-for-4. Hardie was 2-for-3. Exum drew three walks.


“We’ve worked extra hard to get here,” Wagner said. “When you lose an Ethan Murray and Adam Hackenberg there’s a lot of hard work to do and so this feels good. We played some small ball here and found a way to hit in the sixth hole, that’s how we have to continue to go.”


In relief for Payne, Matt Sykes, Simon Lewellen and JAck Masloff finished the last inning and two thirds, giving up no earned runs and no hits.


Miller will face Steward on Friday in Colonial Heights at Shepherd Stadium at 11:30 a.m. The last time the Mavericks lost in semifinals was in 2016 to Greenbrier Christian. The Mavericks have Chenault and Ian Haney in place to pitch on Friday, along with a healthy bullpen. Should they advance, Payne would be available to start in the title game with a five day break.