Stone Bridge baseball coach Sam Plank didn't really think his team's bats were jinxed. The Bulldogs had averaged 10.4 runs per game through their first five outings this season, but after being no-hit for the second straight game Tuesday night, Plank decided something needed to be done.
So in an effort to lighten the mood -- and alleviate some of the pressure -- that was building at practice Wednesday, Plank had his players throw all of their bats into a pile. The team then held hands in a circle around the heap and tried to contain their laughter while injured junior pitcher Ryan Shugars doused the sacrificial bats with a water bottle.
"That's what turned the corner for us," Plank joked Friday night after Stone Bridge collected 11 hits at Fireman's Field in a 9-5 victory over rival Loudoun Valley. Eight Bulldogs got in on the action, led by senior center fielder Sean Ryan, who went 3 for 4 from the leadoff spot with two singles, a double and two runs. Junior shortstop David Ball, who follows Ryan in the order, went 2 for 4 with a single, double and three RBI.
"The one thing I've always admired about Stone Bridge's offense is that they are aggressive at the plate," Vikings Coach Wayne Todd said. "They attack the ball. Sometimes we made good pitches, and they fouled them off, but that's good hitting. Sometimes they got bloopers off our good pitches, but that's good hitting, too.''
Stone Bridge's six other hits were scattered among six batters, the most important of which was a single to center by junior second baseman Tony Mazur in the top of the second inning. Mazur's hit -- a line drive off Brigham Young-bound Brandon Michon -- drew resounding applause from the dugout.
"There was like this big sigh of relief from everyone," Ryan said. "We knew once we got that first hit we'd just start rolling."
The Bulldogs (5-3, 3-2 AA Dulles District) totaled four more hits that inning that scored four runs but were unable to enjoy their lead for long. Junior pitcher Alex Noble struggled in the bottom of the inning, yielding four runs on one hit and four walks. Noble also had an error and allowed two runners to advance on a bad pickoff throw to first base.
"I was definitely over-thinking things out there, and it was starting to get to me," Noble said.
Noble fought back through the next four innings, allowing no runs on three hits and walking one batter before yielding to junior closer Ryan Kash in the bottom of the seventh.
"Noble really fought out there tonight, and that was nice to see," Plank said. "We needed that kind of effort from him."
That's because the Bulldogs remain short-staffed on the mound. Their top two pitchers, Shugars and junior Chris Dzurilla, have yet to pitch a game this season because of shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively. Dzurilla is expected back as early as Friday; Shugars is still one to two weeks away from being ready.
"That's the thing, we have help on the way," Plank said. "We've just got to hang in there until then and keep our bats going just like this."
Loudoun Valley (6-2, 3-2) did threaten in its final at-bat, loading the bases with three straight walks after Kash had struck out the first two batters. Kash recovered to get the game's final out on a called third strike.
"You don't know how bad we needed this," Plank said. "Especially this kind of total team effort. It was perfect."