Walsingham Academy already had waited more than 70 years for a first baseball state championship, so what’s another 3 hours, 10 minutes and 10 innings?
The wait finally ended when Jack Estep scored from second base on a steal and overthrow in the bottom of the 10th to give the Trojans a 6-5 win over Fuqua School of Farmville in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division III tournament final on Monday at Shepherd Stadium.
Estep came on with the score tied at 5 to pinch-run for Jason Covaney, who reached on an error with one out. Tanner Schobel was hit by a pitch, giving the Trojans (21-10) runners on first and second bases as Jacob Miller-Bopp stepped to the plate.
Estep sprinted for third base as Miller-Bopp swung and missed. Fuqua catcher Elijah Warner’s throw to third base bounced past the bag and into left field as Estep ran home uncontested to give the Trojans the state crown and ignite the celebratory dogpile.
“We had a hit-and-run on and I was just being aggressive,” Estep said. “We had the state title on the line and I said, ‘May as well go for it.’
“Once I saw that ball get by, I just ran as quick as I could. There’s no better feeling than that, especially being a senior and with a state title behind it.”
A state title was inconceivable for the Trojans a decade ago. They’ve since become perennial state tournament participants under ninth-year coach Ian Heisel and were making their second trip (2015 was the first) to a state final.
“This shows how far the program has come,” Heisel said. “I remember the first year people said Walsingham couldn’t even finish a game, they were 0-16 and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning (without being mercy-ruled).
“Now we’re one of the premier programs in our area. It’s hard work, dedication and also good baseball players.”
It took some patience and poise as well. The Trojans beat Carlisle 16-6 in the semifinals but had to endure a two-day postponement to play the final because of rain.
They seemed to have things well in hand Monday, taking a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth inning on Cody Christman’s three-run double. That looked invulnerable because pitching ace Covaney was cruising along, having scattered four hits over five innings.
But Covaney tired in the heat and humidity, and the Falcons (13-5) retaliated with four runs in the top of the sixth to tie it. Drew Osborn’s three-run double to right was the big hit of the rally, which did not deter the Trojans.
“I wasn’t (worried),” Heisel said. “We played a lot of close baseball games this year, so I knew going in our kids were mentally tough. There’s nothing we haven’t faced adversity-wise.”
After Osborn’s hit, Heisel brought in freshman Miller-Bopp in relief of Covaney. Miller-Bopp promptly gave up two singles but did not give up another hit in his 4 2/3 innings.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Miller-Bopp said. “My off-speed (pitches) definitely (were working) and getting first-pitch fastballs.
“I was trying to throw strikes and get it done for my team, and we won.”
And they might not have to wait 71 years to repeat. Seven starters are expected to return next season, and five of them are sophomores or younger.
They’ll look to continue the legacy of a senior class — starters Covaney and Zack Tomek, and reserves Estep and Alex Decamp — that reached a state final as freshmen and leave this time with the championship trophy.
“I feel like I made my mark and it’s the first state title for Walsingham baseball, so I’m just glad I could be a part of it,” Estep said.
WALSINGHAM 6, FUQUA 5
Fuqua 100 004 000 0 – 5 9 4
Walsingham 020 030 000 1 — 6 5 3
WP: Miller-Bopp. LP: Williams. Standouts: Fuqua, D. Osborn 2-4 (double, 3 RBI), Thomas 2-3 (double, 1 RBI); Walsingham, Christman 1-2 (double, 3 RBI). Records: Fuqua 13-5, Walsingham 21-10.
O’Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.