TAZEWELL, Va. —
When Billy Wagner says Nathan Gentry has a ‘chance’, believe it.
Gentry pitched like the right-handed version of a young Wagner on Saturday afternoon at Lou Peery Field, scattering five hits, striking out 10 and walking none in Miller School’s 7-2 win over Tazewell.
He also hit a two-run home run, walked twice and scored a run, not to mention throwing just 15 balls from the 83 pitches thrown in the game.
All that, and the 6-foot-4 Gentry is just a freshman.
“He did well, he has got some things to grow up on with attitude, but the sky is the ceiling,” said Wagner, the former Tazewell standout and future Major League All-Star closer, who is now coaching the Miller School, located in Charlottesville, Va. “The harder he works, he has a chance.”
While Gentry was practically flawless with his control, outside of hitting a batter, Tazewell struggled with walks, allowing six in the game, four of whom wound up scoring for the Mavericks.
“That is probably the best pitcher we are going to face and it is a good measuring stick for us,” said Tazewell head coach Aaron Buchanan, who has replaced the retired Lou Peery for the Bulldogs. “The Gentry kid is a great pitcher and I am glad we got to face him today and I am glad we got that opportunity to see where we are at.
“That is what I told the guys before the game. It is a measuring stick to see where we are at and see how good we want to be and how good we could be.”
Miller School (9-5) had just six hits, one more than Tazewell, but Gentry and Jack Morris each hit two-run homers, pulling away from a 4-2 lead with three in the seventh.
“We have got to throw more strikes,” Buchanan said. “We have got to be more consistent, but I ask my pitchers to compete and that is what they did today.”
Mike Dailey, who walked and scored three times each, drew a one-out walk in the first, moved to second on an error and scored on a single by Morris. That margin grew to 2-0 on a walk to Brooke Henley, and he scored after a single by Steele Henley was bobbled in the outfield for one of the Bulldogs’ three errors.
Dailey walked again to lead off the third and Morris hit a home run over the left field fence for the 4-0 advantage off losing pitcher Luke Parsons.
But, in true Tazewell tradition, which Wagner learned on his own, the Bulldogs fought back, much like they did earlier in the season, rallying from a 6-1 deficit at Miller to win 7-6.
“My heart is in Tazewell, always will be, but I have a got a new team that is learning the game and that is why we come to Tazewell every year, because this team is gritty, they are going to fight you,” Wagner said. “I want my team to be that way, I want it to be a dogfight every time we come out there.
“That is what I want these guys to be, to be dirty after the game and push for excellence and see how it is down here, how we play baseball.”
Gentry, who threw just four balls among his 34 pitches in the opening three frames, was met in the fourth with a long home run over the right field fence by Chase Illig in his second trip to the plate.
“That is where we sit there and tell them to move into the breaking ball and the off-speed,” said Wagner, whose freshman son, Will, played second base for the Mavericks. “The ball that went for a home run, I called a change-up because I knew you aren’t just going to sit there and pop fastballs in there and expect him not to hit it.
“It was a bad pitch and he hit it a long way. I tip my hat, but it was fun, they competed, which is what you want him to do and Nathan was out there competing so it was worth it.”
Brett Jones reached on Miller’s lone error one out later, moved up when Tyler Myers was hit by a pitch and Mason Turner followed with an RBI double to left field. Gentry was able to strike out the next two batters to leave runners on second and third.
“The Gentry kid was a great pitcher today,” Buchanan said. “He showed us we have got to go to work. We played well, we battled, we competed and that is what we ask every day, go out and compete and do well, play well.”
Miller added three runs against Turner in the seventh on a another walk to Dailey, an RBI single from Adam Marston, and a two-run homer over the right-center field fence, with Gentry actually leaning back when he hit the ball.
Despite being around the strike zone the entire game, the Bulldogs couldn’t break through again, with Gentry retiring 11 of the final 12 batters he faced, allowing a one-out seventh inning single to Nick Elkins.
“You have got to have the right approach,” Buchanan said. “He was throwing the ball pretty hard and we have got to have the right approach when we go to the plate and we lacked that a little bit today, but we are getting there. We are getting better and we get a chance to prove that later.”
Tazewell (4-1) didn’t have much time to think about its first loss of the season, not with the Coppinger championship game waiting a few hours later in Bluefield.
“We are going to eat, get on the bus and go win a ball game,” Buchanan said. “I am excited, this afternoon will be a great ball game between us and Richlands.”
Wagner, who knows all about the Coppinger, just wanted the Bulldogs to build memories and have fun. A ninth tourney title would be nice too.
“Enjoy it because looking back those are some of the highlights of your high school career is playing in the championships and having the opportunity to gain something, to come home with a trophy and enjoy it,” Wagner said. “I would tell them to enjoy every moment, every pitch and just thank God they get the opportunity to play in that game.
“That tournament, I wish we could get into, because I have told them how awesome it is.”
The fact that it’s against their arch-rivals doesn’t hurt either.
“Anytime against Richlands,’ said Wagner, with a smile, “that is always fun.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org
at Lou Peery Field
Miller School........112 000 3 — 7 6 1
Tazewell.............000 200 0 — 2 5 3
Nathan Gentry and Jacob Rich. Luke Parsons, Mason Turner (5) and Chase Illig. W—Gentry; L—Parsons. HR—Jack Morris (M) 3rd, 1 on; Illig (T) 4th, 0 on; Gentry (M) 7th, 1 on.