Surging Starmount fells Forbush in semifinals
After watching his team beat Starmount 13-1 back in March, Forbush baseball coach Taylor Rutledge cautioned players on reading too much into the lopsided victory margin.
How true Rutledge’s words have turned out to be.
Starmount beat Forbush 5-0 in the rematch on April 20 and then used heavy lumber to fell the Falcons again on Thursday, this time by a 7-2 score in the semifinal round of the Mountain Valley 1A/2A Conference tournament.
Tanner Mathis hit three doubles in Thursday’s triumph, clearing the bases in the top of the seventh inning with his final two-bagger. Chase Thompson enjoyed a standup triple and a double, also finishing with three RBIs on the day. Alex Barr provided two more hits, and Dillon Bray overcame some early control issues caused by the high humidity to earn a complete-game pitching win.
Starmount (17-7) will return to the MVAC tournament title game for the second year in a row. The Rams are 13-4, by the way, since that loss to Forbush early in the conference schedule, including an eight-game winning streak between April 6 and April 23.
“We hit it one through nine today,” Starmount coach Mike McCann said after the Forbush game. “I am real proud of the guys.”
Starmount trailed for much of the early part of the contest. Forbush picked up a run in the bottom of the first after an RBI single by Caleb Brawley. The Rams tied the score 1-1 in the top of the fourth when Thompson ripped a ball into Elkin High School’s expansive center field area. His standup triple scored Mathis, who had doubled two batters in front of him.
Forbush moved back in front 2-1 after another RBI single from Brawley. But the Falcons ended up stranding two runners in that inning instead of building on their lead.
Mathis and Thompson teamed up to give Starmount the lead for good in the top of the sixth. Mathis hit his second double of the game with one out. Bray followed with a single over third base, putting runners on the corners.
Thompson smashed a ball over the Forbush left-fielder to drive in both of his teammates for a 3-2 lead.
Thompson is a bit of an unsung hero on Starmount’s offense, tucked away in the No. 6 hole behind guys like Mathis, Dillon Dobson and Bray. His average after Thursday’s win is .339.
“Chase has struggled at times at the plate, but he has come up big in some big moments,” McCann said. “I keep thinking his batting average isn’t that good but it is … In the conference he was batting over .400. He has really worked hard on that swing.”
A throwing error later in the sixth inning enabled Starmount to push one more run across for a 4-2 lead.
Eugene Billips and Luke Shore got aboard to start the Starmount seventh, then Dobson walked to load the bases. Mathis followed with a slam into right field, scoring all three teammates for what would be the final 7-2 margin.
Mathis’ stellar day pushed his batting average for the season up to a team-high .507. He now has 13 doubles and 33 RBIs to go with three home runs for the year.
“Tanner has been seeing the ball real well. He has just learned how to be patient and see the off-speed stuff,” McCann said. “We had speed on the bases and that was able to help us out.”
Bray took care of the rest, helping the Rams retire Forbush 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh. Bray gave up only four hits and struck out five, though he allowed six walks and hit a batter. McCann said the high temperatures Thursday made gripping the ball tough on his pitcher, especially in the early going.
Travis Holden suffered the loss for Forbush. The left-hander had the Rams handcuffed at the outset and finished with five strikeouts.
“Holden did a real good job in the early innings,” McCann said. “He was throwing it slow and doing it on purpose, throwing a lot of off-speed stuff. He’d sneak that fastball in on us when it wasn’t a fastball count. We were all out front on it. We made some adjustments and did a real good job.”
Monday’s title game may mean more to Starmount than to Wilkes Central, even though Central is playing for its third straight title. The Eagles, by virtue of winning the regular season, have a No. 1 seed for the state playoffs locked up no matter what happens Monday. The state tournament starts next Friday.
Starmount, on the other hand, is battling to improve its seeding for the 2A playoffs. The loss to North Wilkes on Tuesday bumped the Rams to the No. 3 seed behind Wilkes Central and Forbush.
But Starmount can swipe the No. 2 seed from its county rival if it can win the conference tournament. Forbush would then be relegated to the No. 3 seed.
“Whoever we get, we’re just going to try and do the best we can,” McCann said. “We can’t worry about who it’s going to be. We’re just going to go and play our game and leave it right there.”
McCann said he’s encouraged by the improvement curve that Barr is making since returning from knee surgery. The senior was cleared to play in late April and has made a couple of pitching appearances. Offensively, he had two hits on Thursday and drew a walk. If Barr continues to improve on the mound, the Rams could be a dangerous team in the 2A West bracket, much like last year.
Starmount would essentially have three all-conference starting pitchers – Barr, Bray and Mathis – along with a capable reliever in Brett Pinnix (2.69 ERA in 26 IP).
“Having all three of them back, it makes it fun,” McCann said. “You are able to do some things. You don’t have to sit there and ride Tanner and Bray like we did. Right now, I can do all kinds of things …
Starmount 7, Forbush 2
Mountain Valley Semifinals * Thursday * at Elkin
Starmount 000 103 3 — 7 9 1
Forbush 100 010 0 — 2 4 0
WP: Dillon Bray; LP: Travis Holden
3B: Chase Thompson (ST)
2B: Tanner Mathis (ST) 3, Chase Thompson (ST)
Leading hitters: Starmount – Tanner Mathis 3-for-4, 3 RBIs; Chase Thompson 2-for-3, 3 RBIs; Alex Barr 2-for-3. Forbush – Caleb Brawley 2-for-4, 2 RBIs.