7/29/2006 – Daily News Record
Daily News Record Written By Joe Lemire Bobby Spain Harrisonburg beat Covington 6-3 Friday to advance to the Southern Division title series. While diving for a ball, he said he heard a pop in his right shoulder – and it must have hurt for Bobby Spain to miss four games, including Harrisonburg’s first playoff bout with Covington. But the shortstop from Oklahoma City University wasn’t about to miss any more time, not with his team facing elimination in the Valley League playoffs. Spain contributed an RBI single in Thursday night’s win and delivered the knockout blow on Friday, drilling a two-out, full-count, bases-loaded pitch from the Lumberjacks’ Caleb Graham into the right-field corner for a three-RBI double. The hit keyed a five-run fifth inning and led the Turks to a series-clinching 6-3 win before a mild crowd of about 200 fans at Memorial Stadium. Harrisonburg took the series two games to one and will host Staunton in the Southern Division championship series, which begins tonight at 7:30. "He threw me a changeup," Spain said, "and if he had kept it down a little more, I would have swung and missed. But he left it up a little bit." It was a fitting hit for the Turks’ regular-season MVP, who entered the game with a team-best 52 hits, 26 runs and .354 batting average. Spain nearly had the go-ahead hit in the third inning of a 1-1 tie. With runners on first and second, he singled to left, but a perfect throw from Covington left fielder Jason Kipnis nipped Gary Martoccio at the plate and catcher Chad Mercado turned the unusual 7-2-4 double play when he threw down to second to nab Ryan Rachal, who wandered too far off the base. And when Spain stepped to the plate before his bases-clearing double in the fifth, even the opposing coach knew it would be trouble. "Bobby Spain is a helluva player," said Anthony Everman, who finished his second season as Covington’s coach with a 22-24 record. "… If I’m coaching that ballclub, that’s the guy I want up with the bases loaded. He did his job, and you’ve got to tip your cap to him." Clint Robinson and Evan LeBlanc followed Spain with RBI singles sandwiched around Josh Dew getting hit by a pitch to give the Turks (27-18) what proved to be their final two runs of the inning and game. Tim Wheeler pitched out of trouble in six effective innings before leaving with what Harrisonburg coach Bobby Wease said was a pulled muscle in his back. Wheeler, who is transferring to Troy University this fall, stranded seven runners on base, including five in scoring position, and struck out four to improve to 4-2 on the season. Jonathan Vallen of Mount Jackson and Potomac State pitched three no-hit innings to get his second save of the season. "All he wanted was a tryout … and he’s been the biggest addition we’ve had all year," Wease said of Vallen. "That fastball he throws probably 84, 85 miles per hour. Then he throws that knuckleball about 50 – you cannot hit that." Wease questioned his team’s concentration after its first-game loss, but with Spain back in the lineup, there was no doubting the Turks’ focus Friday. "There’s nothing else to do but go home and sit around," Spain said, "so might as well win the whole thing, you know?" Covington 000 111 000 – 3 7 0 Harrisonburg 001 050 00x – 6 12 0 Graham, Kent (6), Burge (7) and Mercado; Wheeler, Vallen (7) and Denker. W – Wheeler (4-2). L – Graham (3-3). Sv – Vallen (2). HR – None.