GLEN ALLEN — For the third straight year the Halifax County High School baseball team was close enough to the Virginia High School League Class 5 state baseball championship that it could almost touch the trophy.
And, for the third straight year, the Comets were turned away.
Mills Godwin High School's Bryce Safferwich sent a hard-hit ball to deep right field for a walk-off double that plated two runs with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning to give the Eagles a 5-4 win over the Comets Thursday afternoon in a state tournament semi-final game at RF&P Park in Glen Allen, Virginia.
Thursday's loss ends the Comets' season, and leaves the Comets with a 23-4 season record. The 23 wins is one win shy of tying the Halifax County High School record of 24 wins set by the Comets team of 1995.
This season marked the eighth time in the history of the Halifax County High School baseball program that a Comets team had played its way into the state tournament semi-finals. Halifax County High School has won only one of its most recent four state semi-final game appearances, that coming in 2017.
For the Comets, it was a case of missed opportunities. Halifax County High School stranded 12 runners on the bases in the game. On three occasions, in the fourth inning, sixth inning and seventh inning, the Comets saw the inning end with the bases loaded.
"We had opportunities to put some more runs in the scoreboard, and just didn't take advantage of it," said Comets head coach Kenneth Day.
"I think the kids played really well again. Mills Godwin is one of the best teams in the state. They are a good-hitting team. It's hard to hold a good-hitting team down. We did for most of the game. For five innings, we had them pretty much shut down.
"We just left opportunities on the board," Day added.
"Against really good teams you've got to take advantage of it."
The Comets out-hit the Eagles, who will go on to face Stafford High School in Friday's state championship game, 10-7 in the contest. Joey Duffer led the Comets with a 3-3 effort at the plate. Drew Harlow and Alex Lowery boy had two hits, and Dylan Clark, Shaun Perkins and Troy Ferrell had a hit each.
Halifax County High School jumped on top with three runs in the top of the first inning to grab a quick 3-0 lead. With two out, Perkins walked, Ferrell followed with a single to move Perkins to second base. Harlow followed with a single to score Perkins to out the Comets up 1-0.
Alex Lowery followed with a hit that scored Ferrell from second base to make the score 2-0. Dylan Newton, running for Harlow, scored on a double steal to put the Comets up 3-0.
The Comets' lead didn't last long.
Mills Godwin High School took advantage of four hits and a walk to score three runs in the bottom of the first inning to tie the game at 3-3.
The game remained deadlocked until the top of the fourth inning. Duffer came up with a single with one out. Luke Fulcher, running for Duffer, moved to second base when Tyler Mabe reached base by being struck by a pitch. Clark followed with a single to score Fulcher from second base to put the Comets up 4-3. Halifax County High School loaded the bases after that, but was unable to score again.
Halifax County High School loaded the bases in the sixth inning, but came up empty. The Comets loaded the bases again in the top of the seventh inning and failed to score, seeing an attempted squeeze play fail during that final frame.
Thursday's game marked the final appearance on the mound by Comets pitchers Harlow and Alex Lowery. Harlow was pulled in the sixth inning after having reached the maximum allowable pitch count. He struck out seven batters and allowed five hits, four walks and three earned runs in 5.2 innings of work. Lowery yielded two hits and two runs, one of the runs being an earned run.
Day praised Harlow's effort in his final appearance for the Comets.
"Drew pitched a great game again," Day pointed out.
"He kept us right there with them (Mills Godwin High School) the whole time."
Day said while the loss was a tough one to take, "there's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm proud of all of our players, especially the seniors. They led us all year. We had the most wins we've had in a long time, and we made it to the Final Four. The kids can be proud of what they accomplished."