PULASKI — Many young baseball players have dreamed it.
Trevor Miles lived it.
No need to pinch yourself, young fella.
With his team one out from elimination Thursday in a VHSL Class 1 state semifinal at Calfee Park, the Auburn senior lofted a two-run single into short left field to give the Eagles a stunning 4-3 victory over defending champion Riverheads.
Few events in Miles’ young life have rivaled that one, which put Auburn (24-3) into Friday’s 9 a.m. final at Calfee against Lancaster.
“That’s the biggest moment, for sure,” he said. “It feels amazing.”
With two outs and Auburn trailing 3-2 with the bases loaded, Miles popped a 1-1 pitch from Elijah Dunlap into short left field, and the ball sliced toward the foul line.
Left fielder Ryan Farris charged. Third baseman Braeson Fulton pivoted, craned his neck and sprinted.
Riverheads shortstop Grant Painter, a junior who has committed to James Madison, had the only real chance to catch the ball, but his diving attempt came up short as Auburn runners Drew Hill and Taylor Newcome crossed the plate as joyous teammates rushed the field from the dugout.
“I was watching that thing the whole way,” Miles said. “I thought that guy was going to make a great play over there, a diving catch. I saw it drop when I rounded first. I saw two guys touching home plate and I knew we had it.
“God was with us tonight. It dropped. Thank God.”
Auburn coach Eric Altizer wondered just one thing as the ball cleared the infield dirt with the three Gladiators in desperate pursuit.
“I didn’t know it was going to be fair or not,” Altizer said. “With two outs, that made it easy on the runners. We’re just all chugging. Their shortstop, who is magnificent, almost got there, laid out full for it.”
Riverheads (24-3) led 3-1 entering the bottom of the seventh.
Auburn’s rally began when Dunlap hit No. 8 batter Parker Hale with a pitch, and Hill reached when left fielder Ryan Harris dropped a fly ball.
Newcome followed with a sharp one-hop single off Fulton’s glove at third base, allowing Hale to score from second and cut the deficit to 3-2.
“The important part was the first two guys, our [number] 8 and 9 hitters, both of those guys getting on somehow,” Altizer said. “That was the key to the inning.”
Riverheads issued Brady Harris an intentional walk to load the bases, but Dunlap struck out Keith Reed and Carter Keith to put the Gladiators one out from returning to the state final.
Miles had other ideas, and Auburn will play for its second championship in the last three years.
“It was a good ballgame all the way around,” Riverheads coach Rodney Painter said. “We had some chances. They had some chances. It comes down to pitching, defense and timely hitting.”
The Riverside coach had a sinking feeling as he watched Grant Painter — his son — chasing the pop fly.
“Where Grant was playing, I didn’t think he could get there,” the elder Painter said. “That was a tough one, once it came off the bat. … It’s a cruel game.”
Auburn took a 1-0 lead on an RBI double by Hale in the second inning, and Newcome made it stand up on the mound until Riverheads scored in the fifth on a single by Adam Painter and a sacrifice fly by Michael Robertson.
Riverheads made it 3-1 in the sixth on Adam Painter’s two-run single. Harris prevented further damage in the seventh after he relieved Newcome, earning the pitching decision.
Thursday’s semifinal was originally scheduled for June 7 but rain forced the VHSL to postpone the game for six days.
A brief shower hit the ballpark in the seventh inning, but play continued.
Riverheads’ reign did not.
“I don’t know who the rain was cheering for but it gave us a break or two, it seemed like,” said Altizer, who is hopeful that Austin Kirtner can return to the lineup after the Eagles’ second baseman was hit by a pitch on the hand in the second inning and left the game.
Auburn’s baseball program will attempt to follow the Eagles’ girls cross country, boys cross country, girls soccer and girls tennis programs as a 2018-19 state champion.
Auburn’s softball team was scheduled for a semifinal later Thursday.
The road has not been easy as the Eagles lost to Galax in the Region 1C final.
Riverheads was a major obstacle.
“That team was phenomenal,” Newcome said of Riverheads. “They were by far the best team we’ve played all year.”