Stafford’s last appearance in the state baseball playoffs came in 2009 when their coach, Tommy Harrison, was just getting started with the program.
Ten years later, Harrison has the Indians back in the state round, and he’s got the same type of team making noise—gritty, strong defensively and solid on the mound. And just as important, the Indians know how to win.
“The two teams are just alike,” Harrison said after watching the Indians outlast visiting Orange 3–1 in Tuesday’s Region 5D semifinals and earn a berth in the Class 5 playoffs. “There are no superstars, just a grinding bunch who have bought into what we’re teaching.”
Stafford (22–2) will travel to Halifax on Thursday for the region title game. The Comets punched their ticket with a 7–0 win over Mountain View on Tuesday. Orange closed its season at 15–6.
“Stafford is a tough team and Mike Tolson is a tough pitcher,” Hornets coach Adam Utz said. “He controlled the mound and battled. Credit to him and credit to their coaches.”
Tolson fired a complete-game no-hitter in last week’s 5–0 quarterfinal victory over North Stafford. His numbers weren’t quite as impressive against the Hornets on a humid night, but he was just as effective.
The senior improved to 10–0 with five solid innings, allowing just one hit and striking out nine. He had only two innings where Orange got runners in scoring position, but allowed minimal damage by ending the threats with strikeouts.
“I think the first four innings I had my good stuff,” Tolson said. “In the fifth, I started to get a little off, but I pushed through and got us over the hump.”
Tucker Sullivan took over in the sixth and shut the door on Orange’s comeback hopes with a solid relief job. He got Christian Koontz on a shallow fly ball to end the game and the Indians began to celebrate.
“You have no idea how good this feels,” Sullivan said. “But there’s always room to grow and for us to get better.”
Against the Hornets, the Indians did the little things that it takes to win games. Their offense produced just four hits, but they were timely ones, and their defense provided the support that Tolson and Sullivan needed.
In the bottom of the third, the Indians plated three runs and took control. Center fielder Elijah Lambros delivered the big hit, a two-out, two-run single up the middle that scored Logan Steigerwald and Tristen McAlister.
The three-run cushion would be all that Stafford would need to get its victory, but Orange did not go away quietly.
After threatening in the top of the second, the Hornets scored after Kyle Johnson spoiled Tolson’s no-hitter with a single to center. Caleb Fincham then scored the Hornets’ lone run on a groundout. After Koontz walked, Tolson ended the rally by getting Cannon Davies on a called third strike.
“[Tolson] is a bulldog,” Harrison said. “You’re not going to blow teams out this time of year, but he got the job done and we got the timely hitting we needed. I couldn’t be happier for these guys.”