LYNCHBURG — When the ball left Austin Cohn’s bat, he thought it was a “can of corn,” a lazy fly ball that would be easily caught. Instead, it kept “going and going,” for a double to center field, detonating a rare hitting explosion for a Lafayette High baseball team known less for such pyrotechnics than for pitching and defense.
By the time the fireworks ended, the Rams had blown out Monticello 11-0 in the Group 3A state tournament semifinals Friday at Liberty University. The victory moved the Rams (18-6-1) into the championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday against Loudoun Valley, marking the program’s first state final appearance in 25 years.
“This is wonderful, a dream I’ve always had,” Lafayette coach Rick Schenk said. “Today the bats exploded, up and down the lineup and off of the bench.
“They played A-Cohn shallow and he burned them. Luc Lipcius had a couple of hits, there were some shots by Jeremiah Antle, and Daniel Blankinship had a key first-inning hit.”
And the Rams, of course, had the pitching and defense that have so often carried them in a season when they hit for a modest, by high school standards, .288 average. Blankinship pitched a complete game, allowing seven hits and striking out seven, while the defense played errorlessly behind him.
“We’ve been working for this since our freshman year,” Blankinship, a senior, said of reaching the state final. “When we hit like that, I can just focus on grooving (the pitches), not trying to overpower anyone and let the defense do the work.”
He pitched ahead the entire game as the Rams manufactured a run after Matt Keane led off the top of the first inning with an infield single. Andre Lipcius’ walk, Blankinship’s single and Jeremiah Antle’s RBI grounder produced the run.
The Rams used a single, walk, an error, a run-scoring double-play grounder and a run-scoring wild pitch to manufacture two more runs and make it 3-0 in the top of the third. Then the bats caught fire, beginning with Cohn’s double.
Jared Antle followed with a double to right field, driving in Cohn to increase the lead to 4-0after three innings. The Rams mixed patience with power to score six runs in the fifth inning, when the bottom of the order was as valuable as the top.
Cleanup man Blankinship and No. 5 batter Jeremiah Antle led off with hard-hit singles. Cohn and Jared Antle followed with walks, driving in a run and chasing Mustangs starting pitcher Parker Heinemann to left field. John Barton walked with the bases loaded to make it 6-0.
Next up, No. 9 hitter Braydon Venus lined a single to left to drive in two runs and increase the margin to 8-0.
“We just needed to get the bat on the ball,” Venus said. “They were trying to mix it up that inning and throw a lot of off-speed stuff, so you’re just trying to sit back on it, get your hands on the ball and get the best swing you can get on it.”
Matt Keane got a pretty good swing on a ball he lined down the right-field line for a double to score Barton and Venus for a 10-0 cushion. Chase Smith came off the bench in the seventh to double in fellow reserve Patrick Cheek, who had walked, then the Rams looked forward to their shot at winning the first state baseball championship in school history.
It will come against a Loudoun Valley team that beat Rustburg 6-0 Friday after playing Lafayette to a weather-shortened 0-0 tie in the East Region final.
“I can’t wait,” Venus said. “It’s going to be ‘the’ game.
“We’re going to come back with the same intensity we had today and just try to do it.”
LAFAYETTE 11, MONTICELLO 0
Lafayette 103 060 1 — 11 11 0
Monticello 000 000 0 — 0 7 2
WP: Blankinship (6-1). LP: Heinemann. Standouts: Lafayette, M. Keane 2-4 (double, 2 RBI), Luc Lipcius 2-4 (2 runs), Cohn 1-3 (double, 2 runs), Jared Antle 1-2 (double, 2 RBI), Blankinship (pitched shutout, 7 strikeouts); Monticello, Decker 2-3, Jarrell 2-3. Records: Laf. 18-6-1, Monticello 19-8.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.