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What makes a cadet a Keydet? Obviously, including a "K."
Nobody seems to understand that better than Jason Stafford.
The big right-hander, back home after his first year at Virginia Military Institute, showed his fondness for being a VMI Keydet (with a capital K) by tossing eight strikeouts in Big Island Post 217's 4-3 win over Danville Post 325. Stafford went the whole nine innings for the Islanders.
The capable catapaulter's cornucopia of K's came at a convenient confluence in his club's calendar.
In fact, the win avenged a mercy-rule shortened loss that the Islanders suffered at the hands of the Dannos less than two weeks ago.
Stafford worked his magic o' the mound six nights later, leading the Islanders to a surprising 10-9 win over muscular Lynchburg Post 16.
That win gave Post 217 a season split with Lynchburg, as well.
"That was a big win," said Islanders' Head Coach Kelley Russell. "They may have underestimated us a bit."
Lynchburg is in a position to underestimate a lot of opponents this year: The team's roster bears an uncanny resemblance to the Seminole's All-District baseball team, drawing from Amherst, Glass, Heritage, Brookville and Rustburg, as well as William Campbell and Appomattox. (Big Island has a pair of players from Liberty, three from LCA and the rest are from Jefferson Forest.)
Against Stafford, the Burgers were able to put up four runs over the first two innings, while Heritage's standout pitcher Shane Bryant kept the Islanders off the board.
But, don't count these guys out. They exploded for nine runs over the next three innings, putting Lynchburg in a 9-4 hole as Stafford quieted the potent Lynchburg lineup.
"We had a pretty good game going," noted Russell.
An example of that came in the five-run fifth. With the bases loaded, third baseman (and occasional first baseman) Trevor Cheek came to the plate.
Cheek, a Liberty High grad is focusing on his studies at Bridgwater. As a result, he's been off the diamond and is a bit rusty.
Russell initially wanted Cheek to lay down the suicide squeeze bunt, then thought better of it. Cheek, seemingly gratified by his coach's trust, delivered a two-run single to left-center field.
Another guy who's delivered in a big way has been Cal Hodgert.
The shortstop showed that he's not all about the slick fielding for which he's noted. He came into the game having gone 4-for-4 (two singles and two home runs) in Saturday's 5-4 lightning-shortened loss to Rocky Mount.
Hodgert smacked hits in his first three at-bats against Lynchburg to run his streak to seven before his hot bat was finally cooled a bit.
The Islander bats were taking care of business. As was the pitching department. With Stafford going eight innings and striking out eight, things seemed to be going swimmingly.
In the eighth, for example, Stafford walked the first Lynchburg batter. With dangerous Matt Blanks (Brookville) heading to the plate, Russell nearly headed to the mound.
But he stuck with his big righty. Stafford, in turn, struck out Blanks, the first out in an inning which he would escape without yielding a run, holding on to a 9-6 lead.
The Islanders nearly threw it away in the ninth. Literally. Wacky throws resulted in a pair or errors which, in turn resulted in three unearned runs for Lynchburg. Reliever Tyler Bergin could only watch in exasperation as his Islanders fell into a 9-9 tie.
But the lads responded in the bottom of the ninth. Nate Williamson coaxed a lead-off walk from reliever Zach Perkins (Appomattox). Matt Bates moved Williamson to second on the sacrifice bunt.
Bergin walked before Zach Coleman drove a stinger past the Lynchburg first baseman delivering Williamson with the winning run..
The result of all of this is that the Islanders now stand 6-5, overall. They are also 6-4 in their district and 2-2 in the division.
They'll host Vinton on Thursday night at Forest Middle School.
On Saturday, they'll seek to grab a share of the division lead (along with Danville and Lynchburg) when they play a double header at Martinsville.
Russell knows the score. "No matter where you're seeded, you have to go through Lynchburg and Danville," he said. "But, I think we've sent a bit of a message."