To better equip his lineup for facing hard-throwing Spotsylvania hurlers Brian Baker and Trevor Croson, Culpeper baseball coach Brandon Mack turned to the Jugs.

During batting practice, he positioned the pitching machine 50 feet from home plate and dialed up the velocity to 90, 91 miles per hour with a simple directive: “Put the barrel on the ball.”

The Blue Devils have proven more than capable of getting up to speed. After starting the season 0–9, Culpeper’s bats have come alive—and just in time for a playoff push.

Jake Dudley finished a homer shy of the cycle and Eric Wilson struck out nine in relief as the Blue Devils (7–14) shocked the defending Class 3 state champion Knights 5–3 in Friday’s Region 3B quarterfinals.

Dudley gave Culpeper a 1–0 lead on his first hit, a towering triple to straightaway center field that scored Zach Gray in the top of the first. He knew the Knights would almost assuredly respond.

“I went to the dugout and I was like, ‘This ain’t enough boys, we gotta keep going,’ ” Dudley said.

Sure enough, Spotsylvania answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame. Jonathan Olsberg and Baker walked, and cleanup man Tyler Castle drove home the former with an RBI single. A two-out error on the second baseman plated Baker and Castle.

The pivotal swing came in the top of the fourth. Ben Anderson led off the frame with a walk, then came around to score on a Dudley single. With two outs, freshman Blake Bailey trotted to the plate. A backup infielder, Bailey was inserted into the game when Wilson came on to pitch in the second inning.

Facing Baker with runners in scoring position, he was merely seeking to make contact. To that end, he succeeded, sending a feeble bloop right up the middle. What should’ve been a can of corn morphed into catastrophe when Croson was blinded while trying to track the ball.

“If the sun wasn’t there, he would’ve caught that,” Bailey admitted.

Instead, two Culpeper runs scored and the Blue Devils took a 4–3 lead. Wilson and Dudley handled the rest. After relieving southpaw Thomas Ketchum with no outs in the second, Wilson struck out nine of the 12 Knights he faced.

Wilson pitched masterfully through pain, after fouling a ball directly off his shin bone in his first at-bat.

“When we sent him back out for the second inning, he was ginger on it,” Mack said. “But he said, ‘No, I want to go back in,” and he did a heck of a job for us just by being in the zone and battling.”

Dudley came on to start the sixth and earned the six-out save. In the bottom of the seventh, Spotsylvania put runners on first and second with one out. The Knights suddenly came to life, sensing their state title defense had eroded to a few pitches.

“Their dugout was trying to rattle me, just had to get my mind on the plate,” Dudley said.

His focus intact, Dudley struck out the side to send the Knights (12–8) home and Culpeper surging into Tuesday’s Region 3B semifinal against Warren County (15-5).

“We were getting hot,” said Mack, “and I think we’re getting even hotter right now, so just the right time.”{td style=”text-align: right;”}{td style=”text-align: right;”}{td style=”text-align: right;”}{td style=”text-align: right;”}{td style=”text-align: right;”}R{td style=”text-align: right;”}H{td style=”text-align: right;”}E Culpeper{td style=”text-align: right;”}100{td style=”text-align: right;”}301{td style=”text-align: right;”}0{td style=”text-align: right;”}{td style=”text-align: right;”}5{td style=”text-align: right;”}7{td style=”text-align: right;”}1 Spotsylvania {td style=”text-align: right;”} 300{td style=”text-align: right;”} 000{td style=”text-align: right;”} 0{td style=”text-align: right;”} {td style=”text-align: right;”} 3{td style=”text-align: right;”} 4{td style=”text-align: right;”} 0

BRIAN BAKER, Trevor Croson (5) and Jonathan Olsberg. Thomas Ketchum, ERIC WILSON (2), Jake Dudley (6) and Ben Anderson.

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