“I’ll be a nervous wreck Saturday,” O’Connor joked following the Stags’ win against No. 9 Riverdale Baptist on Tuesday. “Anybody can beat anybody in seven innings and a one-and-done situation, and nobody wants to be on the wrong end of that. Hopefully our guys will rise to the occasion, but in that scenario, you just want to get to [the semifinals on] Monday.”
The semifinals are a best two-out-of-three series.
O’Connor’s anxiety could be heightened by DeMatha’s recent trend of briefly relinquishing early leads before storming back for victory. It happened Tuesday, when the Stags saw two home runs erase a 2-0 lead before rallying for a 7-5 win behind Bradley Keith (3 for 4 with a homer and three RBI) and the pitching of Kevin Fitzmaurice.
It also happened three other times in the past two weeks, when DeMatha notched comeback wins against WCAC rivals O’Connell and Good Counsel and in a non-league game against No. 7 Georgetown Prep.
These key victories have been symbolic of the Stags’ turnaround from last season, when they finished 6-10 in the WCAC and lost in the quarterfinals to second-seeded Paul VI Catholic. This year, the senior-laden Stags are 12-3 in the league entering Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Gonzaga and are primed to contend for their first WCAC crown since 2008.
“I think this is our best chance to make a postseason run with the talent we have and resilience we’ve shown,” said Fitzmaurice, who hit a grand slam to spark DeMatha to its win against Georgetown Prep. “It’s all about finding a way to win, and we’ve shown that we can pick up each other up and do that if we need to.”
Raiders out for revenge
Stuart will try to break a 17-game losing streak in the Yorktown series when the Raiders play at the Virginia AAA National District front-runners Wednesday night, with senior ace Jack Gomersall on the mound.
“Jack is probably 0-3 against them in the past two seasons, so he owes them one and we owe them one,” Stuart Coach Randy Lightle said.
If the Raiders (12-4, 8-2) are to pull the upset, they likely would do so with pitching, with Gomersall, seniors Chris Clayton and Jacob Kniatt and junior Nick Young having paced the team this season.
They have helped the team compile a 2.97 ERA and compensate for an average defense and a top-heavy batting order that’s hitting about .370 in the first few spots, thanks in part to senior first baseman Casey Duncan, and about .180 thereafter.
The Raiders lost one regular to grades and another who returned home to the Dominican Republic, so those losses weakened the batting order and defense. But not the pitching staff.
“We talk to the kids all the time about we just have to get better defensively and we have to hit,” Lightle said, “because the pitching has been carrying us.”