May 26, 2012

Beware the senior-laden team, coming off a disappointing regular season, that finally locks in during the playoffs. That’s Stafford, which has won its way into the Virginia AAA Northwest Region quarterfinals.

The Indians (8-14) expected to be here, but not via a 5-13 regular season. One of the Commonwealth District favorites in March, Stafford endured two five-game losing streaks and then a three-game skid headed into the district tournament.

The Indians, seeded sixth, somehow found themselves. In the district quarterfinals, senior Ryan Leake tossed a two-hitter and struck out 12 in a 2-0 win over third-seeded North Stafford and its Virginia Tech-bound pitcher, Sean Kennedy.

In the district semis, the Indians erupted for a season-high run total in a 16-6 win at second seed Albemarle, a team they had lost 9-1 at home to six days prior.

After falling 3-1 to regular season Commonwealth champion Colonial Forge in the district final, Stafford weathered a two-hour rain delay before the start of their first-round regional game Thursday night and knocked off visiting Patrick Henry-Roanoke, 6-4, after giving up three runs in the top of the first inning.

Leake fanned 11 in his six-inning stint and also homered. Senior Shane Haley lined a bases-loaded double to right field with nobody out in the bottom of the sixth when the Indians trailed 4-3.

The 3-1 postseason record feels like a cleansing do-over.

“They’re having fun,” Stafford Coach Tommy Harrison said. “They haven’t had fun in probably a month. They’ve been miserable. The way I look at it is, you don’t want to play us right now. We’re a scary team. Do they have something to prove? Probably so.”

The Indians play at Cedar Run District champion Freedom-South Riding (16-6) in the region quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Monday. Like the Northern Region, the Northwest will play its quarters, semifinals and championship on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of next week.

Stafford’s 11 seniors were around in 2009, Harrison’s first season, when the Indians won their first region title and earned their first state berth. This team might not be quite as loaded, Harrison said, but it is more than talented enough to continue the run that began last week.

“We started off looking to have one of those type years,” Harrison said, “but we were just very disappointed. We couldn’t hold a lead. Seniors are supposed to be able to step up and lead, and we just didn’t do it.

“It’s a shame the way our year went. But the 5-13 season falls by the wayside because we’re playing like we’re playing right now. There’s a lot of fun and a lot of fever going on.”

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