RICHMOND — Like most Class D baseball coaches, Richmond’s Ryan Gardner frequently faces a dilemma presented by the pitch count rules enacted for this season.

The similarities end there, however. Most teams the Bobcats face worry about finding another pitcher. Gardner worries about which one to pick.

“Lots of D teams have a 1-2, that’s it. And then they’re using the catcher, some outfielder, stuff like that,” he said. “We’ve had a luxury in that we’ve had four.”

The Bobcats have a dangerous lineup and a furious approach on the basepaths, but it’s their deep pitching staff that has been the driving force in getting them to the brink of a spot in the Class D championship game. In Zach Small, Brendan Emmons and Matt Rines, with Justin Vachon contributing in relief, Richmond has ample pitching talent and mound experience, giving Gardner ways around the pitch count restrictions that many depth-strapped D teams cannot find.

“We have a bunch of depth,” said Small, who is part of a rotation that has allowed 2.49 runs per seven innings and fanned 133 batters in 95 2/3 innings. “I’m usually coming in to start, and we have really good middle relievers and Brendan’s closed a lot of games for us. That’s just how we roll.”

With a 7-0 record, Small is the ace, but Richmond’s chances don’t take a hit when he isn’t on the mound. Not when Gardner can give the ball to Emmons (4-2 with 53 strikeouts in 30 innings), or Rines (4-0 with 24 punchouts in 25 2/3 frames this season).

“I think that gives them confidence,” Gardner said. “I’m going to go out and throw, but if I can’t, there’s another guy behind me. So there’s no fear. Go out, attack the hitters. I’ve got my buddy behind me.”

That hasn’t been the case all season, even if it was supposed to be. Gardner knew he had a 1-2 atop the rotation with Small and Emmons, but the team had to adjust when it lost Matt Holt, who was projected to be the third option on the staff.

Gardner told the team that he needed someone to patch the hole. Rines, a junior shortstop, volunteered.

“We didn’t want to mess with a shortstop throwing all the time,” Gardner said. “But we knew, with the pitch count, we needed another guy. He goes ‘I’ll do it.’ So he accepted the role and embraced it.”

Rines said adding a curveball to his repertoire, something he didn’t have during unsuccessful pitching tries as a freshman and sophomore, has been crucial in boosting his confidence on the mound. So far, the results have bore it out as Rines has slotted in as a second starter, with one of his best starts coming in a victory over Valley in which he allowed no hits in four innings of work.

“I figured I had to step up,” he said. “In JV games I used to pitch sometimes, and (I’ve been) just working on it, developing a curveball, all that necessary stuff. And definitely, the confidence part is a big thing with me.”

While Rines’s emergence has been an improvisational note to the season, Small’s and Emmons’s contributions have followed the script — even if they’ve found different ways to do it. Emmons leans on his guile on the mound, while Small, a hard-throwing junior, dares hitters to catch up.

“Emmons is trying to out-think hitters,” Gardner said, “and Small I think is trying to blow them away.”

The differences carry over to their personalities as well. Emmons, like Rines, stays calm and collected, and they both marvel at Small, who is fiery and puts his competitiveness on display.

“Matt and I are a little quieter than Zach,” Emmons said. “Zach’s kind of the one in the dugout telling everyone to get yelling and standing up. I just try to stay focused in the dugout and make sure I’m sharp when I get out there.”

“Zach, definitely, he’s a huge factor in that,” Rines said. “He’ll come in the dugout and get us all fired up. He’s always a confident guy, and he’ll pick you up if you’re down.”

Different as the personalities are, however, they’ve meshed seamlessly. Small gets the biggest games and the best opponents, and Rines’s presence has allowed Emmons to operate as both a starter and a closer, which the senior said has been an adjustment.

“You really have to get in the zone mentally,” Emmons said. “If it’s a close game, you want to be sharp and make sure you have the accuracy. You can’t be messing around with counts.”

The pitchers have flourished in those roles, giving Gardner all the flexibility he needs to maneuver around the pitch count — and plenty of options as he hopes to navigate the Bobcats through two more victories.

“You have to be creative, but they’ve embraced it,” Gardner said. “I thought it was going to be a struggle with the pitch count, but they’ve (all said) ‘OK, I’ve got this.’ ”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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