Quade Tomlin fouled off pitch after pitch and worked the count in his first at-bat Tuesday against Kettle Run. The Liberty Christian leadoff hitter was focused on going as deep into the count as possible to get the pitch he wanted in the strike zone.
He finally got it on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, a fastball, and didn’t miss. The no-doubt home run to right field gave the Bulldogs another early lead, a common occurrence during this postseason run for LCA.
Tomlin and Pell Collins have been dynamic at the top of the LCA lineup with their abilities to work the count and drive in runs with the long ball. It’s a luxury the Bulldogs have enjoyed recently as they chase their second Virginia High School League state championship in three seasons.
LCA (25-1) is in the state semifinals for the third time in the past four seasons and faces Lafayette (17-7) in the Class 4 semifinals at 3 p.m. on Thursday, June 13, at Kiwanis Field in Salem.
“The top of the lineup, it’s really important to get that energy flowing in the beginning,” Collins said after Wednesday’s practice, “and it really gives the guys in the dugout and on deck a boost.”
The Bulldogs are known for their sensational pitching this season, headlined by Liberty University signees Christian Gordon and Emmanuel Johnson, but the hitting at the top of the lineup has generated a cascade effect throughout the roster as the season has progressed, especially in the postseason.
Tomlin and Collins are hitting .423 and .417, respectively, and have combined to club eight homers in seven postseason games beginning with the Seminole District tournament.
Three of those homers have been grand slams.
“We’ve kind of evolved into a bigger swinging team now,” Tomlin said, “but we just grind good at-bats and see what happens from there, get on base.”
The two at the top of the lineup have combined to drive in a whopping 32 runs in postseason play — 19 from Tomlin and 13 from Collins — while the rest of the lineup has benefited from having them on base. Tomlin and Collins have combined to score 20 runs, with Jacob Williams, Johnson, Luke Ramsey, Gordon and Noah Robbins delivering when they come up with runners on.
“Last year we had 40 home runs as a team — it seemed like everybody was hitting eight home runs — but this year we’re a lot more scrappier, a lot more singles, getting on base, making good at-bats and have one big guy produce, whether it’s Pell, Gordy, Jacob, Emmanuel, me, it doesn’t matter who it is,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got that one guy that’s always going to produce runs.”
Tomlin, the Region 4D player of the year, is hitting 11 for 26 (.423) in the postseason with nine runs scored. He has also hit two grand slams, including one in the second inning of Tuesday’s 11-0 rout of Kettle Run.
The junior, who has verbally committed to LU, began the season hitting second in the lineup and was moved into the leadoff role April 26. The Bulldogs have scored eight or more runs in 12 of the 13 games Tomlin has batted first and Collins hitting second.
“They both do a really good job. There’s been multiple times where it’s early in a game, like we saw [Tuesday] night, and you’re up 1-0, 2-0,” Gordon said. “It’s really getting on top of teams like that and then throughout the course of the game keep pounding, keep pounding and putting them away. They do a really good job of giving us that comfort and security.”
Collins said he began the season in the slump, opening the season 2 for 11, and he didn’t hit his first homer until a March 25 win at Appomattox. The Liberty University signee clubbed his second homer the next day at Liberty High and began seeing the ball better.
“When we’re up there, we’re not trying to hit home runs, we’re just trying to put a good line drive back up the middle,” Collins said. “With these guys’ power, we’re able to put balls over the fence with ease.”
When Tomlin and Collins are able to produce in the first inning, like they did Tuesday, it immediately gives the Bulldogs an edge with their pitching.
Gordon and Johnson, both southpaws, have combined to not allow an earned run in 15 of their starts this season. Gordon sports a 0.73 ERA this season, and Johnson, Friday’s starter against the Rams, has an ERA of 3.00. Twelve of the 14 earned runs he has allowed this season came in two starts, and he has allowed one earned run or fewer in his other seven appearances.
“They’re definitely pace setters. As a pitcher, they give me confidence,” Johnson said of Tomlin and Collins driving in runs early. “ … It pretty much frees me up and frees the rest of the team up. It’s like an icebreaker in a sense.”
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.