Matt Wright was just livin’ the dream.
You know, the good one that ends with the touchdown catch, the buzzer-beating basket, or maybe the game-winning two-out hit in the seventh inning of the state championship game.
Wright envisioned that final scenario in his head, then the Salem junior catcher brought it to life Saturday as his two-out single in the seventh scored sophomore Parker Stallard from second base to give the Spartans the VHSL Class 4 baseball title at Haley Toyota Field.
“This is exactly what I dreamt of, the chance, the opportunity to be here and to take it home for my team,” Wright said. “It was just a dream come true.
“As soon I hit it, I was just overwhelmed with emotion. I can’t put it in words.”
After Stallard crossed the plate, Salem players raced from the third-base dugout and mobbed Wright near the first-base bag, celebrating the first baseball state championship in the school’s 41-year-history.
Senior shortstop Joe Quinn was part of three state football titles at Salem, where such feats are expected.
Saturday’s ascension came somewhat out of left field.
“There’s really no way to distinguish which one is more special,” Quinn said. “This is the first in program history for baseball. I’m still on a high from this one, and I think I will be for a while. There’s really no better feeling right now.”
With Stallard standing on second base, Quinn was intentionally walked to bring Wright to the plate.
Jamestown side-arming starter E.A. Woolwine had the Spartans (20-3) off stride much of the day, but two pitches shy of his allowed limit, the right-hander hung a delivery over the plate and Wright drove it past left fielder Rocco Colafrancesco.
Stallard scored easily and Salem’s 40-year baseball championship drought was history.
“I knew I was going on contact,” Stallard said. “I saw it. It looked pretty good. I didn’t turn around. I knew from the dugout that it was down, so I just kept going.”
It was the third state tournament loss in three years for Jamestown (19-5), including a semifinal setback in 2016.
“Unbelievable,” Jamestown coach John Cole said. “Unbelievable.”
With first base open, Cole elected to walk Quinn to give his defense more options on a ground ball. Wright foiled the strategy.
“My wife will probably get on me, because she tells me, ‘Every time you intentionally walk, you get burned,’ ” Cole said. “But Quinn’s a good player. So is the guy behind him. I just figured we’d set up a force and go after this guy with these last pitches.”
Sophomore Zian Honaker pitched a seven-hitter for Salem to finish 8-0 in 2018 and 12-0 in his two varsity seasons.
“It was nerve-racking at first,” Honaker said. “I’m only a sophomore, but when I get in the big-time like this, I really like it.”
Honaker was helped on three occasions by his defense.
Quinn and second baseman Jadon Fetrow turned a 6-4-3 double play in the second inning, then Wright picked Jamestown’s Josh Ammons off first base in the third and cut down Colafrancesco trying to steal in the seventh.
Honaker ran into major trouble in the fifth.
Jamestown catcher Ryan Pastirik drew a leadoff walked and moved to second on a sacrifice. Honaker then committed a balk prior to putting Ammons on base with a free pass.
With Ethan Weaver at bat, Ammons swiped second base, but Weaver was called out for interfering with Wright’s throw.
“He stepped across the plate and my hand hit his helmet,” Wright said.
Weaver was sent back to first base, where he was picked off by Honaker and tagged out by Fetrow before the run could score.
Jamestown’s lone run came in the sixth on a double by leadoff man Spencer Pietruzynski and an RBI single by Woolwine.
“We just weren’t hitting the ball,” Cole said. “We tried to force a couple things that didn’t work. Everything we tried to do today execution-wise failed. We’ve got to score more than one run to win the game.”
Salem’s other run came in the first inning without benefit of a hit, as Stallard reached on an error by Lansford, and Woolwine loaded the bases by plunking two Salem batters.
Woolwine then committed a balk to give Salem a 1-0 lead that Honaker did not relinquish until the sixth.
“Zian pitched his heart out,” Salem coach Wes McMillian said. “That pitcher for that team, outstanding. That shortstop they had [Matt Lansford] ... dynamite. That was a good team.”
Salem swept six postseason opponents including a 3-2 victory over Amherst County in the Region 4D final that allowed the Spartans to play all three state tournament games within the city limits.
With most of the starters returning, the future is bright.
But if Salem wins another championship, count on Honaker to celebrate it differently.
As his teammates assembled for a photo on the pitcher’s mound, the 10th-grader bent down on all fours and kissed the dirt.
So how does victory taste?
“Terrible,” Honaker laughed. “I’m not going to lie. It tasted terrible.”