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Comets could win it all ...

SoVaNow.com / April 20, 2017
Basically at the midpoint of the varsity baseball season, the Halifax County High School varsity has a superb team fully capable of winning the school’s second state title.

That said, it’s also entirely possible that these Comets, now 9-2 after a 12-0 win over Struthers, Ohio Sunday in Myrtle Beach, S.C., will fall short.

The first and only state title for Halifax County came in 1984, with a stacked ball club. Len Wentz recently became the latest member of that team to win deserved recognition as a local Hall of Famer. And state titles back in the day included three classifications: AAA, AA and A.

Now, there are six classifications that finish with state title games.

Halifax is one step removed from the top rung in 5-A.

And it’s not like urban teams from other parts of the state fear, respect, or even know about this particular Comet club. If you’re a prep hotshot on the Potomac team, for instance, you’re focused on getting through your Northern Virginia rivals to battle through conference play and 5-a north regional action before you even think about the Final Four in state 5-A. Halifax probably is not even on your radar screen, at least not yet.

The Comets will need relentless hustle, a careful attention to the details of baseball, reliable offense, especially with runners in scoring position, superb defense and rock-solid pitching to get it done.

And these Comets will need some luck, too. Any baseball expert will tell you that. And remember, this will basically be a one-day, elimination affair, as Halifax continues to advance. The best teams don’t always win in this kind of setting.

Furthermore, prep baseball coaches across the state have to deal with a new set of mandatory pitch count rules, adopted by the national High School Federation.

Here’s one central issue for this Comet team. As good as he is, Comet ace Andrew Abbott will not be able to pitch both games in the state Final Four. The state Final Four is a two-day, back-to-back deal, and the Comets are going to need very timely, critical contributions from other hurlers to get it done.

Nevertheless, Halifax does have Abbott, and so far, he’s basically been lights out this season, against all opponents. That 60-1 strikeout to walk ratio is going to get attention.

But Halifax is also improving across the board. Halifax battered Struthers, Ohio in Sunday’s finale, giving the Comets a 2-1 finish in official games. Halifax also won an exhibition game Saturday.

Troy Ferrell worked four innings, allowing one extra base hit (a first inning, two out triple), with two walks. Ferrell fanned seven, while stranding three runners. Reliever Drew Harlow, who has had a strong season, fanned three, while walking one, in a scoreless fifth.

Halifax brought plenty of offense in Sunday’s finale, scoring three in the first inning, two in the second, four in the third, two in the fourth and one in the fifth.

And the RBIs were scattered through the lineup, always a positive thing. Better balance through the lineup reduces the opportunities for pitchers to work around a particular hitter.

Most of the production, as far as runs scored, came in the top of the lineup. Leadoff batter Abbott singled, tripled and struck out in three at-bats. He stole two bases and scored twice.

No. 2 hitter Tyler Duffer scored three times after getting three trips to the plate. Duffer walked, was hit by a pitch and tripled. He also showed good base running acumen. Ironically, Halifax got four runs scored out of the no. 2 hole, as Parker Franklin reached on a fielder;s choice and scored.

Holt Powell, batting DH, singled, walked and doubled and scored twice. Will Scheier also had a good game batting seventh. Scheier hit three singles (HC had 13 overall hits overall) and scored once.

H. Powell ended with three RBI, while Ferrell, taking over for Powell, also had a two-run double in the fourth.

Coach Kenneth Day said after the three-day trip, “we didn’t learn nothing we didn’t already know.

“We knew the kids were going to compete, and play well, and were going to have a good time together. That was the main thing, play some good competition,” said Day.

And the level of competition was “pretty good”, in Day’s view, although this can be a very subjective issue.

Halifax had a one-run loss Saturday when the Comet left-fielder dove for the ball and ended up getting stuck in the fence in a tough one-run loss. Day called that deal unfortunate.

But Halifax shook it off.

“We came out really loose …enjoying the time they spent together,” said Day. The Comets had a great atmosphere and rolled past the Ohio club.

“Everybody contributed, just like they’ve done every game this year,” said Day.

The pitchers threw strikes. Day estimated this staff has only eight walks all season - as a staff. Ferrell started and Harlow relieved.

Pitching and defense win championships, and Day is confident about the mound work of the Comets.

“The overall strength is we throw strikes,” said Day. “We’ve limited big innings, for the most part.”

Nevertheless, Day is seeking continuous improvement. Asked about the areas Halifax needs to bring more baseball prowess, he said, succinctly,

“Everything. Two-strike hitting, defense, pitching, base running, you name it,” said Day.

No argument there, especially for teams that want to be the last prep club standing in June.

“We can’t settle for what we’ve done so far,” said Day.

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