WCAC baseball championships: McNamara, Paul VI Catholic advance to final

May 8, 2012

Connor Hax has been to the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference baseball championships, but he’s always had to buy a ticket. A junior pitcher at McNamara, his team had never previously threatened to advance so far in the postseason, though Hax would allow his mind to wander as he watched the private school league’s top teams battle it out.

“There is always that dream,” Hax said. “But I never figured we would actually make it.”

On Friday night, Hax and his teammates will be at the University of Maryland for the start of the best-of-three WCAC championship series — and other people will be buying tickets to watch them play.

Hax pitched the best game of his career on Tuesday, a one-hitter, and Brad Sullivan had a pair of hits that included a two-run double in the first inning as the host Mustangs beat St. Mary’s Ryken, 5-0, to sweep the best-of-three semifinal series at Prince George’s Sports Park.

McNamara (12-16) will face Paul VI Catholic (18-10) in the finals. The Panthers advanced Tuesday by completing a two-game sweep of Good Counsel with an 8-5 victory.

“We’ve got a chance. That’s all you can ask when you go into a tournament,” McNamara Coach Larry Prange said. “If our guys keep doing the little things, we’ll have a chance.”

That is quite a change from how Prange felt five weeks ago. He had been optimistic entering the season — it is believed McNamara has never reached the WCAC finals, let alone won a league title — but by the beginning of April it was questionable whether the Mustangs would qualify for the eight-team playoffs in the nine-team league.

“In the beginning of the year, we started out slow,” Hax said. “Actually, the whole year we’ve been slow. The past week, we’ve been playing our best ball at the right time.”

McNamara finished 5-11 in WCAC play during the regular season but a handful of starters returned from injuries late in the year. Seeded last in the league tournament, the Mustangs beat top-seeded St. John’s, 4-2, in the quarterfinals. With the sweep of Ryken, McNamara now has a season-best three-game winning streak.

Jack Hopkins added a sacrifice fly in the third inning for a 3-0 lead Tuesday and the Mustangs played small ball to score twice more in the fifth. That was plenty for Hax, who allowed just one infield single and only one runner past first base.

In the other semifinal, Mark Gunst had a two-run single and Mitch Aker added a two-run home run as Paul VI advanced to the WCAC finals for the fifth time in eight seasons. Braedon Lawson earned the win, allowing three runs in five innings.

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