After winning a state championship a year ago, Lake Braddock senior Garett Driscoll knew exactly how difficult the road to a repeat this season would be. Even armed with that experience, Driscoll and the Bruins could not overcome a disastrous fifth inning in an 8-3 Virginia AAA semifinal loss to Great Bridge on Saturday at Westfield.
After jumping to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, Lake Braddock surrendered eight runs in the top of the fifth. Great Bridge sent 14 runners to the plate, the first nine of which reached base. Three Lake Braddock pitchers combined to give up five hits and three walks while also hitting two Great Bridge batters.
The big inning essentially buried the Bruins (23-5), who recorded just one hit over the final three frames.
“Each inning, when you’re down five, it gets harder and you feel more pressure on yourself,” Driscoll said. “They weren’t missing pitches. When our pitchers made mistakes, they capitalized on that.”
Great Bridge refused to give the Bruins any attempt to rally, calling on staff ace and Virginia commit Connor Jones to close out the final 22 / 3 innings. Jones has a fastball that has been clocked in the low 90s and was selected with the 628th pick in the Major League Baseball draft on Saturday by the San Diego Padres but is not expected to sign with the club.
“As soon as they brought the right-hander out there, we saw him in the pen, our kids knew,” Lake Braddock Coach Jody Rutherford said. “They’re not dumb. They saw it was going to be tough to score a couple runs, but they competed.”
Because Jones pitched more than a single inning in the semifinal win, he will be unavailable for Sunday’s state championship game against Hanover.
Driscoll was the most effective player for Lake Braddock, drilling a two-run home run in the fourth inning that cleared a 24-foot section of the wall in left-center field. The senior, who will play catcher at George Mason next season, was also the most effective pitcher for the Bruins, recording the final five outs of the game and striking out the side in the top of the seventh.
“It definitely felt like we were going to have more momentum, and I guess a chance to win,” Driscoll said.
Oakton’s Brett Padula felt the sweetest swing of his senior season during the fourth inning of the Virginia AAA baseball state semifinal against Hanover. That was when he sent an inside fastball to left field for a three-run home run, the furthest he had hit a ball all year.
Padula’s first home run of the spring gave Oakton a 6-3 lead, and gave the center fielder his fifth RBI of the night. But shortly after, the Hawks’ Keith Searles answered with a three-run shot of his own in the fourth. And it proved to be the dagger.
Searles hit two home runs and finished with five RBI to lead Hanover to a 9-8 victory and a spot in Sunday’s state championship against Great Bridge in Chantilly.
“Heck of a season,” said Padula, whose team finished 21-6. “We were always in it. I mean, I don’t think anyone thought we were going to be in it, but we proved them all wrong.”
Padula’s two-RBI double in the second inning helped the Cougars jump out to a 3-0 lead, but behind Searles’s bat, the Hawks never went away. Searles homered in the second inning to get his team on the board, and following Padula’s jack in the fourth, he crushed a breaking ball to left field to give Hanover a 9-6 lead after the Hawks had used two, two-out hits to produce three runs and even the score.
“I think he made an enormous difference tonight,” Oakton Coach Justin Janis said of Searles. “He’s just a good player. There’s no way around it.”
Oakton fought back late in the game, using a base hit from freshman Joe Rizzo to steal a run back in the fifth — and Padula maneuvered his way out of a pickle between third base and home plate to score and make it 9-8 in the sixth, courtesy of a single up the middle from Joey Bartosic. But Hanover brought on junior flame-thrower Derek Casey to preserve the Hawks lead in the seventh, and the University of Virginia recruit struck out two Cougars to send his team to the final.
“I’m just very proud of our group,” Janis said. “There is only going to be one team happy at the end of the year.”