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Terriers fall in region but not before big win

the Terriers “dogpile” on the infield after the final out is made in last week’s upset win over LCA. PHOTO BY KATHLEEN JOHNSON

The William Byrd baseball team saw their season end in Amherst Tuesday, but not before the Terriers drew state wide attention with a 4-3 win over defending Class 4 state champion Liberty Christian Academy.

Byrd, the eighth seed in the eight-team Region 4D tournament, drew top-seeded and undefeated LCA in the opening round of the regional. The Terriers bussed to Lynchburg last Wednesday with what was perceived as little chance of upsetting the powerful Bulldogs.

What ensued was a dogfight.

The upstart Terriers plated two runs in the top of the first on a two-out double by freshman Dylan Hatfield. LCA tied the game in the bottom of the first, and that’s how it stood through three innings.

Byrd regained the lead in the top of the fourth on an RBI single by Ethan Spraker, then made it 4-2 in the fifth on Hatfield’s sacrifice fly, this third RBI of the game.

Meanwhile, junior Bryce Boothe was keeping the dyke plugged on the mound. Boothe, who was injured for most of the season, allowed just two runs and five hits over six innings against one of the best hitting teams in the state.

Freshman Tyler Dean came on to pitch the seventh. He’s served as a closer all season for Byrd, and this was his toughest assignment yet. Dean allowed two hits and one run but managed to get out of a bases loaded jam with a popup to end the game.

It was the first loss in 34 games for the Bulldogs, who won the state championship last year and hadn’t lost since. They were regarded as a prohibitive favorite to win it again.

“Rodney Spradlin(former Byrd player and coach) told me that was the best team he’d ever seen in Virginia, and that’s saying a lot for Rodney to say that,” said Byrd coach Neil Zimmerman. “It was a huge win for us. I tried to downplay it, but with social media and everything you knew it was going to get a lot of attention.”

The win ended the season for LCA and sent Byrd to the Region 4D semifinal on Tuesday at Amherst. The Terriers lost, 11-3, as the Lancers broke open a close game with six runs in the bottom of the sixth. Byrd had rallied to cut the lead to 5-3 with three in the top of the inning, but the magic ended as Amherst roughed up three Byrd pitchers to pull away.

“We hit a lot of balls hard that they ran down,” said Zimmerman. “We didn’t get the breaks like we did against LCA. It seemed like when our guys were pitching it was raining, and when they were pitching it stopped.

Hunter Meador, Jacob Johnson and Hatfield all drove in runs in the sixth inning rally for Byrd. Boothe started again and took the loss with relief from Isaac Fix, Dean and Josh Hilliard.

The Terriers ended their season with a 10-12 record. That doesn’t sound like much, but consider they had eight players on the varsity who were either freshmen or sophomores, often starting as many as six among the nine positions. They started the season with four straight losses and were 3-7 before turning things around to go 7-5 the rest of the way. And, of course, the one they’ll all remember is the win over LCA.

“It’s a win we’ll be talking about for a long time,” said Zimmerman. “No one gave us a chance to win that game, and I’m sure LCA somewhat overlooked us. Here we come with a 9-11 record and a pitcher who only threw four innings all season. It just goes to show you, you can’t take anyone lightly.”

Zimmerman hopes his young returning players can pull from that in the coming seasons as they mature and take their own spot among state contenders.

“It showed them they can do something special,” said Zimmerman. “I was really glad for our seniors. To beat the 22nd ranked team in the country and knock them out of the state tournament, that’s something they’ll always remember.”

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