TODAY'S SPORTS

Turner Ashby nets seventh state title with dominating with over Riverside





Everyone else from Turner Ashby, fans included, had already left Salem Stadium, and so Andrew Armstrong and Cody Warner left the field.

Walking side by side, they climbed up the three sets of steps toward the main concourse. Armstrong wore sunglasses, a successful playoff mustache and a wet towel around his neck, and to his left was the eye-blacked Warner, proudly in his TA varsity jacket despite a warm late-afternoon sun. Each of Warner's cleats, having served him quite well, hung off of his two bats, which also were put to good use, that were sticking up from his backpack.

They kept a moderate pace; slow enough to soak in their final minutes inside the ballpark, but fast enough to indicate an eagerness to return to Bridgewater.

After a few strides of tranquility, aside from the music ringing through the empty stadium that replaced the sounds of a nearly hour-long celebration, Armstrong calmly turned to his senior captain as they walked.

"Was it everything you expected?"

"Yeah."

The storied teams of the Turner Ashby baseball program's renowned past now have some new company.

In convincing fashion, the Knights returned to glory by dismantling Riverside 14-3 for the 3A state championship on Saturday in Salem.

"I remember freshman year, we always had these big dreams of getting in a dog-pile after winning states," said senior pitcher and James Madison signee Justin Showalter, who threw a two-hitter to edge Spotsylvania 1-0 in the state semifinals Friday. "It didn't happen year after year and to finally get to do it was just so surreal. Just so unbelievable."

TA Wins State Title

Saturday marked 10 years and one day since Turner Ashby baseball last finished off the ultimate goal — a 6-4 victory over Hidden Valley at Radford.

Armstrong hit a three-run home run, threw a 12-strikeout complete game and finished his TA pitching career 28-0 that day as the Knights repeated as Group AA champions. Warner still has celebratory pictures of his younger self on the field with those Knights.

"I've been dreaming of that moment my whole life, and to be able to accomplish that is a huge thing," said Warner, a VMI commit. "It's a big check off my list and that's all I've ever wanted to do when I play for TA. I can't explain how I feel right now.

"To get that 10-year monkey off our back is huge. I mean, 10 years isn't that long for a program to get a state championship. But for TA, that's like 100 years, so to be able to get that outta there is amazing."

Armstrong, TA's third-year skipper, called it an "awesome honor" to coach this group, particularly the seniors, and watch them enjoy the sensation of winning a state title in a Knights uniform.

"It's all about these kids," Armstrong said. "These seniors and juniors have worked their butts off for the past three years to get to where they're at.

"We just tried to exude confidence, embrace hard work, and from day one that I took over this job, I said Turner Ashby's going to be a state power and we're going to stay there. And I think we proved that today."

With its seventh state title, TA broke a tie with J.R. Tucker and now ranks second in baseball championships of all Virginia High School League schools, according to the organization's online record book. And of the Knights' championships — 1971, 1974, 1975, 2002, 2006 and 2007, before this year's — Saturday's was the most lopsided final score since blanking Alleghany 12-0 in 1975.

TA (24-2) exploded for the most runs it scored in a game all postseason Saturday, allowing junior right-hander Waring Garber to cruise through a complete game after surrendering a pair of runs in the top of the first.

"Rough start, but it got better as we went on," said Garber, who struck out three and retired 14 out of 16 batters during one mid-game stretch.

(20170610) - (Salem) Turner Ashby junior Waring Garber delivers a pitch to Riverside. (Jim Sacco / DN-R)

The 3A East champion Rams (24-4) didn't score again until the sixth, but by then TA was in front 11-2.

Entering Saturday, the Knights had generated 16 runs on just 10 hits over the last four games. But they unleashed 11 hits on Riverside as everyone in the lineup, except for the 2-for-3 Garber, recorded at least one RBI.

"We had confidence in ourselves, and it had to come eventually and why not now?" junior catcher Kyle Eagle said.

Eagle's two-run double to right in the first knotted the game at 2, and in the second inning Warner dribbled a go-ahead double down the left-field line before senior first baseman Ross Detamore lofted a two-RBI single to right-center.

A six-run, 10-batter fifth inning buried the Rams, with TA seniors Jordan Branner and Jesse Showalter each knocking a two-run single through infield holes.

"We were due for a breakout and it happened," said junior shortstop Tanner Moyers, who doubled and scored a team-best three runs.

It was the type of offensive explosion that was nowhere to be seen a year ago, when Turner Ashby fell 3-0 to William Monroe in the 3A semifinals, the program's first state appearance since 2007. And with that elimination, TA came up empty in the careers of Brenan Hanifee, who was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles that day, and fellow all-state pitcher Trent Abernathy.

"I think if you asked anybody coming into this year if we would've went further than last year, they would've said you were crazy," Warner said. "Last year I think we had more potential as a team, but I think this year we played to our potential far more. I think that's the reason we're state champions."

The Knights finally could celebrate like it when, with the bases loaded in the seventh, a one-out chopper went from second baseman Matthew Curry to Moyers and Detamore for a title-clinching double play.

After containing themselves to mellow, businesslike reactions after winning the Conference 29 and 3A West Region tournaments, the Knights let it all out Saturday.

Turner Ashby's coaches group-hugged outside the dugout, but the players didn't forget to involve Armstrong — whose house was later toilet-papered by some of the TA community. Lugging a cooler, a handful of Knights sneakily weaved through the postgame mass of players, fans and families and bathed Armstrong with ice water.

By the time Detamore caught the final out, Eagle was already 40 feet out from the plate. Gloves and arms went into the air, the rest of the Knights poured out from the dugout and the dog-pile formed right at the base of the mound.

"It hurt. I was on the bottom," Garber said. "But just so much excitement. Finally made it."

"I was at the bottom," Eagle said. "I got my head crushed, but it was OK. It was a lot of fun."

"Amazing," Moyers said. "So much adrenaline going through. Best feeling I've had in a while. Lots of fun."

It was Warner, perhaps, who immersed himself into the heap of Knights in the grandest way. Charging in from center field, he shed his glove at second base, crow-hopped on the front of the mound and launched onto the pile.

Warner rolled off the bodies, then quickly sprung to his feet and threw himself back on top, basking in his first moment as a state champion with teammates who were doing the same.

And it all went, so he says, as he expected.



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