Lake Braddock has been so good in baseball for so long that there’s a general assumption that somewhere along the line the Bruins must have brought home the Virginia AAA title.
They have not. After eliminating Hylton, 7-4, in the state semifinals Friday afternoon at Westfield, this Lake Braddock team will get the chance to accomplish what the school’s state runner-up teams in 1988, 1993 and 1997 — squads that lost three championships by a total of four runs — never did.
“It’s huge for us,” Bruins senior right-hander Michael Church said. “It’s been our goal since February.”
In the final, at 3 p.m. Saturday at Westfield, Lake Braddock (25-3) will face Kellam (26-2), which beat James River-Midlothian 8-4 in the other semifinal.
Hylton (21-5), in the state semifinals for the first time and vying to become the first Prince William County team to win the AAA title since Gar-Field in 1992, had nine hits to Lake Braddock’s eight, and struck out three times to the Bruins’ 11.
But the Bulldogs could not string hits together, scoring single runs in four innings off Church and stranding eight base runners.
Hylton junior Andre Scrubb hit a solo homer in the first. On the mound, he struggled in the first two innings, walking four batters (including three in a row to force in a run) and hitting one. He struck out nine in a six-inning stint.
Lake Braddock had prom Friday night. Bruins Coach Jody Rutherford said that he had every reason to believe that his team would be focused for the championship.
“At this point and time, if what we’re doing isn’t important enough to the guys, we’re out here for the wrong reasons,” Rutherford said. “I have some good kids and I trust their integrity and I trust that they’ll make the right decisions.”
Hylton started only one senior, left fielder Buddy Meredith, so the Bulldogs’ future is bright. But as Coach Craig Flesher stood in foul territory in left field, the last team member on the field, he was more interested in reflecting than projecting.
“I told them to enjoy this bus ride together,” he said quietly. “It’s the last time this group of kids will ever be together, and we’ll worry about talking about next year here in a couple weeks. I really don’t even want to think about that right now. That’s too overwhelming.
“They need to enjoy being together on that bus one last time before we talk about anything next year.”