Jed Howard took the mound for the two-inning save opportunity in Friday night’s Region 3C quarterfinal, having already smashed Rustburg with his bat.
The freshman lefty was just as overpowering on the mound.
Howard earned the save and went 3 for 4 with three RBIs, starter Brennan Abbott escaped a potentially disastrous fifth inning, and Brookville’s offense struck with timely hitting for a 7-4 win on the opening night of Region 3C play, advancing to next week’s semifinal round.
“I just came up and executed when I needed to,” Howard said of his night at the plate. “I was just seeing it really well and putting it in play when I needed to.”
Howard delivered a two-run double as part of Brookville’s four-run first inning and then, with the Bees (17-7) up 5-4 in the fourth, the freshman smacked a two-out run-scoring single up the middle to give his team some breathing room.
He allowed just one hit to earn the save.
“My changeup was working and I was just locating where I needed to,” Howard said. “I was just feeling really well.”
So were Brookville’s bats. The Bees had seven hits against Rustburg starter Isaiah Blanks and his replacement Nick Rakes. All five hitters at the top of Brookville’s order had hits, including Zach Thompson, Kyle Hammock, Jared Glinski and Abbott, all of whom managed one apiece.
The hitting, coupled with Rustburg errors and miscues, made the difference after the Red Devils (12-10) roared back to tie the game at 4-all with a four-run second inning.
“We had some big two-out hits there to keep putting runs on the board,” BHS coach Chris Glaize said. “A lot of teams, you get four [runs] and then you give four back, you kind of die. But this group didn’t. It was nice to see that.”
Abbott improved to 7-0 despite allowing four runs (all earned) and walking six in his five-inning start. The southpaw finished with five strikeouts, but none were bigger than the two he picked up in the top of the fifth.
Rustburg loaded the bases with one out in the frame, trailing 6-4. That’s when Abbott bore down. The BHS ace fanned Chance Holt looking and then got Jackson Perkins swinging to end the threat.
“Pitching coach [Gene Yost] came out and he was like, ‘You gotta get out of it,’” Abbott said when asked about the fateful fifth. “He kind of calmed me down a little bit, because I was starting to get a little uneasy. So I was just like, ‘Go out and if they hit it, we can get the outs.’ … I just kind of relaxed, calmed down and that helped me throw strikes and get out of the inning.”
Rustburg hitters were also consistently behind Abbott’s fastball throughout the game.
“Some of their guys were hitting it well, but I felt like my velocity was there the entire time,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s success in the fifth was a game-changer. Rustburg was in position for a big half-inning, but managed just one hit the rest of the way.
“It definitely gave us some motivation and boost,” Howard said. “We were confident and we were ready to go.”
The season came to an end for the Red Devils, who finished with a 12-10 record and earned a reputation as a scrappy bunch after a poor start to the season.
“We started to get in the flow of things, and it turned out to be a pretty good season,” Rakes said.
The junior went 2 for 4 with a run scored, while Daniel Smith went 2 for 2 with an RBI.
Blanks threw 3 2/3 innings and walked seven, struck out four and allowed six runs (just three earned).
“It was a slow start to the season, but I tell you, this was one of my most enjoyable seasons,” Rustburg coach Chris Carr said. “And I’ve been a part of some pretty good seasons, but this was enjoyable because these guys, they weren’t satisfied with the outcomes we were getting at the beginning of the season. And it was fun to come out and see them work every day and not be satisfied with mediocrity.”
Brookville, the region’s No. 3 seed, will play at home Tuesday in the semifinal round at 6 p.m. against seventh-seed Fort Defiance, which upset No. 2 Turner Ashby 7-4 on Friday. Win that one and Brookville receives an automatic berth into the Class 3 state tournament.
“We might not be the most athletic,” Abbott added, “but when things start to click, I think we’re unbeatable.”