The Washington Catholic Athletic Conference baseball tournament, with its format of a three-game series in both the semifinals and championship, is supposed to result in the best teams advancing to the final, with one ultimately hoisting the trophy.
McNamara pitcher Tayler Stiles, a Maryland signee, and the Mustangs continue to defy the notion that regular season standings determine any meaningful pecking order. McNamara reached the WCAC final as the eighth (last) seed last season and has advanced to the championship series this season as a fifth seed after sweeping two games from top-seeded St. John’s in the semifinal round.
Stiles threw a four-hitter in a 3-0 win Wednesday night in the second game of the series, and UMBC signee Connor Hax tossed a three-hitter Monday in a 2-0 win. St. John’s entered the series on a 14-game WCAC winning streak and had not been shut out this season.
McNamara’s credentials entering the week? Not quite as impressive. This is the first time in 27 years that the Mustangs (16-12) finished the regular season with a winning record. Yet here they are again in the final after eliminating top-seeded St. John’s for the second consecutive year.
“When we start our fall workouts and everything, all we do is tell them that they’re working really hard to play one week of baseball,” Prange said by phone late Thursday morning in between dealing with customers at the liquor store that he manages. “Of course we want to do well in the season, but our emphasis is for one week of baseball.”
Stiles, the WCAC player of the year, drew a walk in the third inning Wednesday night to force in the Mustangs’ first run and he and senior Kevin Kelleher delivered RBI singles in the fifth. Stiles struck out four.
In the first game of the series, Hax fanned six. McNamara did not commit an error in either game.
The second and potentially decisive game of the other semifinal series got rained out Wednesday. Second-seeded DeMatha, with a one-game lead, plays at third-seeded Paul VI Catholic at 4 p.m. Thursday. If the Stags win, the three-game championship series is scheduled to start Friday at the University of Maryland. If Paul VI forces a third semifinal game, the first game of the championship series likely will be bumped to Sunday, Prange said.
In reaching the WCAC final last season, McNamara beat top-seeded St. John’s in a single-elimination quarterfinal and swept fourth-seeded St. Mary’s Ryken in the semis before losing a three-game championship series against second-seed Paul VI.
This year the Mustangs beat fourth-seeded Ireton in the quarterfinal, 2-1, on a Stiles complete game, and then in the semis beat St. John’s twice on the Cadets’ home field.
“They’ve really done an unbelievable job of just realizing that they could do it again,” said Prange, in his sixth season as McNamara head coach after a 20-year stint as a DeMatha assistant. “They never faltered from that belief, and we’re playing the best we’ve played all year long. We just have an exceptional group of kids that are really buying into what we’re selling.”