When your ace strikes out 13 batters in six and two-thirds innings — in late relief in a scoreless game — you know it must have been a long one.
McLean sophomore Joey Sullivan, the Highlanders’ first batter in the 14th, raced to second base on a catchable fly ball to left field that was misplayed. Senior Tom Cresce laid down a bunt to try to move Sullivan to third. He did that, and more. The throw from the pitcher to first base was wide, and Sullivan, who had slid headfirst into third, popped up and scampered home, scoring without a throw and starting the celebration.
“We practice every day running out fly balls, to run as far as you can to get to second or third or wherever you can go,” Sullivan said of reaching base on what off the bat looked like a routine out.
When Sullivan slid into third, he had no idea where the ball was but heard Coach John Thomas scream, “Go!” and away he went.
“This was just a battle of attrition,” said Thomas, whose team also has a win over No. 1 Lake Braddock. “We didn’t do anything to score that run. We had a pop-up and got a bunt down. I had a feeling it would just be who was making plays. I didn’t see either team getting it on the barrel. Just two teams in an offensive tailspin.”
“Somebody was going to get the break,” Madison Coach Mark Gjormand said. “There was no question how this was going to go.”
McLean (8-4, 5-1 in the Virginia AAA Liberty District) and Madison (8-3, 3-3) combined for only one extra-base hit. Madison lost an 11-inning game Tuesday at Langley in part because of a dropped fly ball. The Warhawks’ district losses have been by 2-0, 2-1 and 1-0 scores.
All five pitchers in the game thrived. McLean senior Brock Hunter threw into the sixth but with a runner on third, one out, and a 2-2 count on the batter, the Highlanders brought in All-Met right-hander Josh Sborz, a University of Virginia recruit who had struck out 12 Jefferson batters on only 51 pitches Tuesday.
Thomas hoped he would need only two innings out of Sborz on Friday night, but Sborz ended up pitching almost seven, striking out 13 batters. Junior Jack Fant, making just his second varsity pitching appearance, threw the last two innings to pick up the win.
“We definitely sold out for this one,” Thomas said of using Sborz for such a long stint. “[Fant] was Plan Z,” he added in praising the untested right-hander.
Madison junior Dan Powers, who threw five innings, and senior Nate Favero were equally effective for the Warhawks, giving up no earned runs. McLean had its chances thoughout. A Highlander got doubled off at second base on a flyout in the fifth inning. The first two batters reached in the sixth. The Highlanders then went from the seventh to the 12th without a hit.
Sborz led off the bottom of the 12th with a single, but his courtesy runner fell down rounding second on a groundout and was doubled off. In the 13th, junior Dalton Taylor doubled to right center field — the only extra-base hit of the game — but he ran into an out at third on a grounder to the pitcher.
Madison stranded seven runners in the first four innings. The Warhawks also had a runner picked off, another erased on a 1-3-5 double play and another caught stealing in the 11th for the second out of the inning. And they left the bases loaded in the 12th.
Gjormand thinks his players are pressing at the plate. They scored 32 runs in winning all five games on a spring break trip last week to Orlando. They have scored one run in 25 innings since coming home.
“We left our bats in Florida,” Gjormand said. “We hope the plane comes in soon.”