Heritage junior Zack Hopeck is more than willing to try to induce the early out rather than work deep into a count for a strikeout. Then on some nights, such as Tuesday against Woodgrove, he is both efficient and barely hittable.
Hopeck carried a perfect game into the sixth inning and ended up with a two-hitter, striking out 10 in a 5-0 win to keep the Pride (5-2, 5-0) unbeaten in the Virginia AA Dulles District headed into their key league matchup Friday at Potomac Falls (4-1, 4-0).
“Zack can be a strikeout guy, but he likes to pitch the whole game, so he knows he can’t get his pitch count up and has to get some outs from his defense,” Heritage Coach Ryan Price said.
“He wants to play at the next level as a pitcher and not necessarily as a position player. He takes pitching very seriously. He offers you something to put in play early, but if you get behind him, he’ll put you away with a strikeout, too.”
The game Friday could be pivotal in the Dulles standings. Potomac Falls has beaten Heritage in the past five meetings and in nine of the last 10. Either senior left-hander Zach Turner or Furhmann, who has pitched only two innings this season, will get the start for the Pride. Turner pitched against Potomac Falls three times last season and for the most part kept his team in each game.
Potomac Falls beat Heritage four times last year, including in the Dulles District semifinals and the Region II quarterfinals.
“[Turner’s] not necessarily a high-velocity guy, but he’s a guy who can keep you off balance,” Price said. “He’s grown and gained some velocity, so now he can kind of put it past guys whereas before they were able to foul it off until the got something to hit.”
Both of Heritage’s losses this season have been to Freedom-South Riding.
“Right now, we’ve just got all three phases kind of clicking,” said Cougars Coach Justin Janis, whose team hosts Hayfield on Wednesday night. “We haven’t played necessarily outstanding, but we’ve just been very solid. We’re making the plays we’re supposed to and offensively we’re situationally hitting pretty well.”
Oakton is one of the region’s deeper teams, so finding playing time has been a challenge.
“We’ve got some players that really haven’t gotten the opportunity they probably deserve at this point because other guys are playing well,” Janis said. “I was hoping to get those guys some more time during spring break, but because of the way it played out [with the weather], we weren’t able to do that.”
The Cougars host No. 2 Madison at 2 p.m. Saturday in the annual nondistrict game pitting Vienna rivals. Madison has won the last four in the series. Oakton opens Concorde District play at home Tuesday against Herndon.
For as pleased as Marriotts Ridge Coach Paul Eckert is with his team’s 5-0 start, he’s quick to caution anyone with two words: “It’s early.”
But while that’s true, it’s hard to overlook these early results.
Sparked by a 12-hit, 12-run performance in a season-opening win against Atholton, the Mustangs have shown strong bats and solid defensive play during their undefeated run, outscoring opponents by a margin of 52-12.
“I know it’s a cliché, but I guess it’s cliché for a reason because our pitching and defense have been good to where we’ve been fortunate not to give away any games after we get out to a lead,” Eckert said. “Some people ask me who my best player is and so far, I don’t think we have a best player, and that’s good because it means everyone is contributing.”
The Mustangs’ balance is perhaps most evident in their batting stats. Leadoff hitter and junior shortstop Jake Bender leads the team with a .571 average, with No. 9 batter and senior second baseman Matt Marinelli coming in second at .500.
On the mound, senior Eric Brown has followed up a junior campaign that included a no-hitter with a strong start to this season. And juniors Michael Dorsch and Grant Summers have proven to be capable pitchers as well.
“This group of guys really plays well together and from 1 to 9 in the batting order, we’ve got guys who can get hits and keep the order moving along,” Brown said. “Last year, we had some games where we didn’t score as much, so it’s awesome for me as a pitcher to have the bats and run support that we’ve shown so far this season.”
As Eckert emphasizes, the Mustangs’ strength in all phases of the game will be tested soon. Next week, they will play four games in five days, including contests at Howard County contenders Glenelg and Mount Hebron.
“We’re off to a 4-0 start in county play, which is good,” Eckert said, “but we’ll know a lot more about ourselves after next week.”
Riverdale Baptist is in Tennessee for a tournament this week. . . . Madison has won seven straight since a season-opening loss to Fairfax. . . . Led by Scott Mitchell’s seven RBIs, South River is averaging more than 10 runs per game. . . . Lake Braddock senior Nick Balenger, the player who sustained a serious spinal cord injury last summer in Hawaii, is scheduled to throw out the first pitch Friday night before the Bruins’ home game against West Springfield. . . . Oakton, the only remaining unbeaten team in the Northern Region, hosts Madison on Saturday afternoon. . . . After going 6-54 the previous three years, Oakland Mills is now 16-10 in the last two seasons under second-year coach Brian Rau.
1. Riverdale Baptist (11-0) LW: 1
2. Madison (7-1) LW: 2
3. South River (4-0) LW: 4
4. DeMatha (7-2) LW: 5
5. Lake Braddock (5-2) LW: 3
6. Paul VI Catholic (8-2) LW: 8
7. St. John’s (6-3) LW: 6
8. Oakton (6-0) LW: NR
9. Arundel (2-1) LW: 10
10. Georgetown Prep (6-3) LW: 9
Dropped out: No. 7 Robinson
On the bubble: Glenelg (3-2), Oakland Mills (5-0), Reservoir (2-2)
Records through Tuesday