Baseball: Northern Region tournament preview
By Preston Williams,
Seventh-year West Potomac Coach Jim Sullivan has been researching just how long it’s been since the Wolverines have qualified for the Virginia AAA Northern Region baseball tournament. He has narrowed it down to somewhere between 1997 and 2000.
So if there ever were a just-happy-to-be-here team, West Potomac would seem like it. But there are two reasons why the Wolverines might not just be happy to be in the 16-team tournament that begins Friday at eight sites.
Eleven of the team’s 18 players are seniors, so there is no next season for them. Sullivan said they were disappointed not to advance beyond the district semifinals.
And even though West Potomac (12-11) lost to some of the lower-division Patriot District teams, the Wolverines hail from a district whose top teams — Lake Braddock, South County and West Springfield — have claimed the past four region titles.
In fact, the last three region finals have pitted Patriot teams. The last non-Patriot team to reach the championship was Chantilly in 2008, and you have to go back to 2004 to find a season in which at least one Patriot team did not reach the championship.
So given that history, and their own, yeah, the Wolverines, are happy to be here.
“Since only the top four make it, making it into the region tournament is quite an accomplishment and I’m very proud of how hard they’ve worked,” said Sullivan, whose team plays its first-round game at National District champion Yorktown (20-3). “Hopefully we can carry the Patriot District banner beyond the first round.”
Carrying the banner likely hinges on not mishandling the ball. Sullivan said the team was within one strike of two wins that turned into losses on errors this season. The Wolverines committed a walk-off error in a 2-1 eight-inning loss to McLean early in the season. And then there was a 10-error game against Oakton.
William and Mary commit Andrew White, one of the team’s three left-handed starting pitchers, likely will throw against Yorktown.
Here are capsules on the other first-round region tournament games set for 7 p.m. Friday night. The quarterfinals are Monday, with doubleheaders at Madison and Lake Braddock, at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., at each site:
Wakefield (4-18) at Lake Braddock (20-2): This would be the upset of upsets. Wakefield has never won a region playoff game and has not recorded a winning season since 1987. The Patriot District champion Bruins, with senior Michael Church and junior Thomas Rogers, two of the top pitchers in the region, are 178-44 the past nine years.
Centreville (16-6) at McLean (14-8): Maybe the best first-round matchup, particularly if it’s anything like their 2009 first-round game, when Centreville knocked off then-Liberty District champion McLean, 1-0. Unless McLean wins its first region title, this will be the final home game for All-Met pitcher Josh Sborz. Centreville also has never won the region crown.
Marshall (12-7) at Westfield (15-6): Marshall, with senior shortstop Kent Blackstone, a New Mexico State signee who is one of the region’s lesser-known standouts, has its most wins since sometime prior to 2001. Westfield, the Concorde District regular season champion, is in the region tournament for the ninth consecutive year.
Langley (13-7) at Robinson (13-9): Langley beat McLean in the last game of the regular season and knocked out Madison, the most glaring region tourney omission, in the Liberty District quarterfinals. The Saxons had a 5-0 lead on Stone Bridge entering the bottom of the seventh inning in a wrenching 6-5 district semifinal loss. Fourteen of Langley’s games have been decided by one or two runs, including the last five. Robinson, with senior right-hander Denis Mikush, has allowed only 29 runs in its last 12 wins.
South County (15-5) at Stuart (14-8): The one game that just doesn’t look right on the schedule. South County at Stuart? The defending region champion Stallions, unbeaten headed into the state final last year, are playing at a school making what is believed to be its first region tourney appearance since 1999? Oddly intriguing. The programs have never played each other. Stuart has allowed two or fewer runs in 10 games, and at one point shut out four consecutive National District opponents. South County’s five losses have all been in the Patriot.
Washington-Lee (11-12) at West Springfield (14-8): West Springfield began its run to the 2009 region title with a 14-4 win over the Generals. Hard to get a read on these Spartans, who have been outscored 75-13 in losses: The’ve won four straight, lost four of five, won four straight, lost two, then won five of six before falling to Lake Braddock in the Patriot final. Washington-Lee and its National District brethren are 3-25 in first-round regional games the past seven years, but two of those wins have come in the past two seasons — Washington-Lee over Stone Bridge in 2010 and Yorktown over Chantilly last season.
Oakton (12-9) at Stone Bridge (16-6): With aces Ty Mocabee, a senior, and J.B. Bukauskas, a freshman, Stone Bridge has allowed only 48 runs in 22 games. The Bulldogs have shown a flair for the dramatic of late. First, they scored six runs in the seventh for the 6-5 Liberty semifinal win over Langley. Then in the 3-1 championship win over McLean, Stone Bridge made an over-the-fence catch to rob Sborz and turned two double plays with the bases loaded and no outs. Oakton had won five straight before a Concorde semi loss to Westfield.