Baseball: Langley, West Springfield, Lake Braddock and Westfield advance to Northern Region semis

Langley senior right-hander Matt Moser is not a pitcher who fires balls past hitters. But he’s not one to let balls rifle past him, either.

Moser treats the mound as if it were an extension of shortstop, his usual position, and in a 4-1 Virginia AAA Northern Region quarterfinal win over South County on Monday afternoon at Madison, he recorded more putouts (six) than strikeouts (four).

Moser scattered seven hits to lift the Saxons to the region semfinals — one victory shy of a state tournament berth — for the first time since 2007, when they lost to South County that year in the semifinal round.

“I like to get all the outs I can get myself,” Moser said with a smile after the game. “I’m just always going after it. I like to dive for ’em.”

“It’s nice when you can have a solid middle infielder throwing on the mound for you,” fourth-year Langley Coach Kevin Healy said. “He just bounces off. The one that got us all was when he jumped back off the mound to catch the ball and landed and made the play.”

Langley (15-10) advances to face West Springfield (16-9) in a region semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Madison. West Springfield knocked off Liberty District champion Stone Bridge, 7-1, Monday at Madison.

The other region semi will pit Lake Braddock (22-2) and Westfield (17-6) at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Madison. In quarterfinal games Monday at Lake Braddock, the host Bruins edged McLean, 6-5, in nine innings and Westfield held off Yorktown, 8-5.

Moser’s relaxed yet focused demeanor is indicative of how the Saxons have been playing lately. When Healy made a mound visit with two runners on in the fifth inning, the infielders and battery were chuckling by the time he trotted back to the dugout. Two of Moser’s four strikeouts ended the sixth, when South County had runners on second and third and one out.

A three-run lead might have felt semi-comfortable considering that 15 of the Saxons’ 25 games have been decided by one or two runs.

Langley is an interesting combination of factors at the moment. The Saxons were the fifth seed in the Liberty District tournament, and are deep postseason neophytes compared to the other remaining semifinalists, so they can easily play the underdog card. Yet they have 14 seniors, seven who start, so they have that urgency quotient. And they were capable enough to beat Madison in the district quarterfinals — their first road win against the Warhawks since 2005— and led Stone Bridge in the district final before allowing six runs in the seventh inning of a 6-5 loss.

“They’re kind of like, all right, this is awesome, but they just keep playing baseball,” said Healy, who thinks the players have become more accustomed to their roles, some of which changed when senior pitcher Andrew Pechstein got hurt and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery. “They’re playing loose and they’re having fun with it.”

“We’re trying hard, but we’re not pressing, which I think is key for us,” said senior first baseman Michael Byrne, who drilled a three-run homer in the top of the first to stake Langley to more than enough lead for Moser, who reached twice as the team’s leadoff hitter. Junior Cal Jadacki had three singles.

Take away that six-run nightmare inning against Stone Bridge, and Langley has allowed five runs combined in its past seven games.

South County (16-6), which left two runners on in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings without scoring, was vying to become the fourth Northern Region team since 2000 to repeat as region champs, as Oakton (2000, 2001), Madison (2002, 2003) and West Springfield (2009, 2010) had done. Senior Andrew Rector and sophomore Michael Smith had two hits each for the Stallions, whose run was unearned.

In the second game at Madison on Monday, West Springfield senior Connor Tagg tossed a three-hitter, striking out one and walking three, to lead the Spartans to the region semifinals for the fourth time in five years. Tagg also doubled in two runs in the fourth inning.

“I don’t even have the words to describe what he did in this heat, against a tough lineup, against a good team,” first-year West Springfield Coach Jason Olms said. “We didn’t score [until the fourth], so the pressure was on to make good pitches early and keep us in the game. He’s been phenomenal for us all year.”

Every batter in the West Springfield order had at least one hit. The Spartans pieced together six hits in the five-run fifth. Seniors Nick Stevens, Donny Haeuptle and Daniel Allen each had RBI hits that inning.

Several of the West Springfield seniors were contributors, bit players or at least interested observers of the 2010 Spartans team that won the state title. Their experience is showing.

“The seniors have just taken this team over and made my job easy,” Olms said. “The sophomores who were on that state championship team are winners. So what they’ve done is teach the underclassmen how to win. They really brought a winning attitude to our practices and to our games every single day. I really haven’t had to get on them too much. They take care of their own business.”

 
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