By Sports Editor Brian Hoffman
Five players from William Byrd High School played in “The Last Inning” at Salem Memorial Ballpark Saturday night as the Salem Red Sox, the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame and some local sponsors put on an event for high school seniors who missed their seasons.
“It was a tremendous event from beginning to end,” said Red Sox GM Allen Lawrence. “It was easily the bright spot of 2020 for all of our staff at the Red Sox and ranked near the top of events I have personally been a part of in my 19 years here. The players and their families were so grateful and this made it even more special. We could not have done this without the help of Gary (Walthall) and all of our sponsors. It was a total team effort.”
Four teams of about 15 players competed in a doubleheader, with all the players being introduced between games with their families. The 3 pm game featured the Gray team featuring players from William Byrd, Staunton River, Cave Spring, Radford and Eastern Montgomery, against the Red team with players from Lord Botetourt, James River, Alleghany County, Franklin County, Patrick Henry and Covington. The Red team jumped out to a 7-1 lead but the Gray rallied to win, 12-9, with a five-run bottom of the eighth.
The Gray team was helped by 16 walks issued by Red team pitchers. Meanwhile, the Gray pitching staff struck out 18 batters in the nine inning game. Byrd has three pitchers take the hill, including starter Logan Baker had five strikeouts in two innings. Nathan Sullivan fanned one in his two-inning stint and Ethan Spraker pitched one scoreless inning and punched out one. Staunton River’s Collin Bates was the winning pitcher, striking out six over two innings despite allowing two runs.
At the plate the five Byrd players combined to go 0 for 9 but did manage to work six walks. Jacob Johnson, Baker and Sullivan each had an RBI while Baker and Spraker scored two runs each. Nate Hayes caught both Sullivan and Spraker and faired well despite not having caught a single inning in a previous high school varsity game.
In the nightcap the Green and Blue teams played with Green taking a 6-4 win. The Green included players from Salem, Glenvar, Northside, Craig County and Auburn while the Blue was stocked by Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Hidden Valley, William Fleming and North Cross.
“I have experienced many highs and lows in sports, and Saturday’s games in ‘The Last Inning’ will certainly rank as a highlight in my sports career,” said former Byrd coach Gary Walthall, who helped organize the event. “I witnessed so many people coming together to support the senior players and it was so gratifying and something I think we really needed in this crazy world we live in right now.
“The Salem Red Sox were phenomenal in my mind and their efforts from the field to the video board to the game day experience and more was the perfect place for us to be this past Saturday,” continued Walthall. “(Sox GM) Allen Lawrence was the easiest and best person we could have dealt with to pull this event off and Joey(Sox groundskeeper Elmore) and the grounds crew made the playing surface like it was the World Series.”
A large crowd attended and observed social distancing. It was estimated that about 1,300 fans came through the gates Saturday night as the event proved to be a big success and hopes are to continue it next summer.
”Until Saturday, I honestly had not given consideration to making this an annual event but after the success of this event, it seems like we may need to,” said Lawrence.