PULASKI — When Auburn won the 2017 VHSL Group 1A baseball championship at Radford University, several Eagles took a celebratory dip in the nearby New River.
Nothing but dry land Friday at Calfee Park.
So the next best thing was the water bucket, and Auburn head coach Eric Altizer got the cool contents after the Eagles captured their second state title in three years with a 9-0 victory over Lancaster in the Class 1 final.
Pitchers Brady Harris and Reed Underwood combined on a three-hitter, and Auburn broke a scoreless duel with a run in the fifth inning before adding four each in the final two frames.
“We’d take 1 to nothing or 18 to 17,” Altizer said. “It really didn’t matter.”
Auburn (25-3) eliminated defending champion Riverheads 4-3 in Thursday’s semifinal on a two-out, two-run single in the seventh inning by Trevor Miles.
Friday’s final was a scoreless pitcher’s duel through four innings between Harris and Lancaster left-hander Nicholas Wohleking.
If Auburn breathed a sigh of relief Thursday, the airways were getting tight in the championship game.
“It’s hard to get more tense than [Thursday],” Auburn senior Keith Reed said. “Through four innings today it was knotted 0-0, anybody’s game. It was still pretty stressful.”
Reed, who starred on the mound for Auburn’s 2017 champions but was prevented from pitching for nearly this entire season by a shoulder injury, scored the first run of the game in the fifth inning.
After reaching on a fielder’s choice, Reed broke for second base on a pickoff throw by Wohleking and beat the throw by first baseman Matthew Kleinfelter to second base.
Reed scored on a throwing error by Lancaster shortstop Spencer Crittenden for a 1-0 lead.
“I was baiting him to pick me off,” Reed said. “The second he lifted his foot, I just took off and I beat the throw. That’s the only run we needed.”
A 1-0 deficit with three turns at bat remaining did not bother Lancaster coach Welby Saunders.
“If you had told me we were going to hold them to one run through five innings, I would have taken that all day,” Saunders said. “For us to put no runs up is something that never happened to us all year long.”
Harris and Underwood combined to strand 12 Lancaster runners on base. Two singles by Kleinfelter and a single by Wohleking were the Red Devils’ only hits.
Nine of the 21 outs were recorded on harmless fly balls to the outfield.
“From the little scouting we did, they hit lots of fly balls,” Altizer said. “We felt good about that, because our outfielders covered everything. Our defense took care of business again.”
Meanwhile, Lancaster committed five errors including three when Auburn sent nine men to the plate in each of the sixth and seventh innings.
Reed made it 2-0 in the sixth on a sacrifice fly that scored Drew Hill, who reached on a leadoff single.
Tyler Sparrer added an RBI single in the sixth, while Harris had a two-run double in the seventh, followed by RBI singles from Carter Keith and Sparrer.
Sparrer, Keith, Austin Kirtner and Taylor Newcome all finished with two of Auburn’s 13 hits.
“The three mottos of our team are ‘hustle, awareness and mental toughness,’ ” Reed said. “A huge part of our approach today was mental toughness.
“If you’re up there and you get down 0-2, you still battle and get a hit somewhere. We started putting them together later in the game.”
Reed compiled 26 pitching victories in his four years with the Auburn varsity.
He was poised to take the mound for one batter in the seventh, but the game ended when Lancaster’s Hunter Koonce grounded into a double play.
“We really didn’t want a double play on that last ball because we were going to bring Keith in to get the last out,” Altizer said. “We were going to bring him in to finish his career. That guy has been our program for four years.”
Reed was effusive in his praise for Harris and Underwood.
“Stellar,” Reed said. “I don’t think I could have done much better myself.”
Harris was the winning pitcher in both games at Calfee, throwing just eight pitches in the semifinal victory over Riverheads.
“I was just trying to get ahead of [hitters], get first-pitch strikes” Harris said.
The Auburn pitchers executed the game plan drawn up by assistant coach Billy Wells, the former head coach at Shawsville, Eastern Montgomery and Glenvar high schools.
Underwood pitched 2 2/3 innings of hitless relief.
“Coach Wells does a great job helping us scout,” the sophomore said. “We know what each hitter has. That helps a ton.”
Auburn’s title was the fifth won in 2018-19 by one of the school’s programs. The Eagles’ softball team elevated the number to six later in the day.
Five other Auburn sports teams this season finished as a state runner-up.
That water the players dumped on Altizer. Just what is in it anyway?
“I don’t know,” Harris said. “We’re rolling, baby. That’s all I’ve got to say.”