Local guys relish contributing to Tom Sox title run

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- As Strasburg put the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the top of the ninth inning of Tuesday's deciding Game 3 of the Valley League Championship Series, the pro-Tom Sox crowd began to tense up in the bleachers.

And Sean Byrnes began to get loose in the Tom Sox bullpen.

Byrnes never had to enter the game. The Tom Sox escaped the jam to clinch the 2-1 victory and the team's first league championship, and Byrnes instead got to celebrate that title in front of his hometown fans.

"I thought about playing for the Tom Sox, but I never could imagine winning a championship here. It's a great feeling," Byrnes said in the aftermath of Tuesday night's dogpile and Lineweaver Cup presentation.

"Doing it in front of so many family, friends. And it just couldn't be a better feeling, knowing they're all here watching, and doing it for our town is awesome."

Byrnes was one of the local high school products who contributed to the best season in Tom Sox history. The Monticello High School graduate spent all summer with the team. Now a rising senior at Elon, Byrnes posted a 1.44 ERA in 18 2/3 innings out of the bullpen during the regular season, then went 1-0 with a clean 0.00 ERA in 4 1/3 innings in two playoff appearances.

Miller School graduate Connor Gillispie was Charlottesville's starting pitcher in Game 3. Gillispie struck out four and gave up one unearned run in four innings, finishing the summer with a 1-0 record and 0.00 ERA in 11 innings pitched over two playoff starts. During the regular season, Gillispie was 2-0 with a 1.58 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings over six appearances, including four starts.

"It's a great feeling, because everyone in the crowd, I know. And it was amazing," Gillispie said. "I've never really won championships before. I lost three in a row at Miller. So it's an amazing feeling."

Gillispie played on Miller School teams that lost in the 2016 VISAA state semifinals, and in the state title game the two previous seasons. His teammate on those state runner-up teams, and now at VCU and with the Tom Sox this summer, was fellow pitcher Michael Dailey.

Dailey went 2-1 with a 3.17 ERA in 28 1/3 innings over seven appearances for the Sox this regular season, including six starts. Dailey took the team's only loss in the playoffs, after giving up seven runs on seven hits in just 2 2/3 innings in Game 1 against Strasburg.

"I came in here just hoping to work on some mechanical issues. And then to come out of here with a championship is huge," Dailey said. "It's been one of the best summers of my life. It was such a great experience."

For most of the season, the Tom Sox pitching staff also included Albemarle High School product Joe Burris. The rising senior lefty from Christopher Newport was an all-star for the Sox this season after not allowing a run all summer. Burris finished the regular season 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and four saves in 14 1/3 regular season innings, but left the team before the playoffs.

But the Sox also added one more local product during the team's playoff run. With the roster short on catchers, STAB alum Jake Allen rejoined the roster. A rising junior at Harvard, Allen spent last summer with the Sox before playing summer ball in California this year.

Allen appeared in four postseason games for the Sox, including a 1-for-3 night as the starting catcher on Tuesday.

"I've had the opportunity to win a championship, but I just couldn't do it. So I thought when I left for college, I had lost my opportunity to win a championship in Charlottesville," said Allen, who was a junior on the STAB team that made states in 2014. "But here I am, and there's nothing better than that."

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