AAA Baseball Semifinals

Bruins Reach End of the Line

By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 10, 2007

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Before Friday's 6-3 Virginia AAA semifinal loss to James River ended their season, some Forest Park baseball players were reminiscing about just how long they had been teammates.

"We were talking about it before the game," senior pitcher Jake Pruner said. "I've been throwing with [catcher Ryan Thomas] since we were 9, probably over 150 to 200 games. Basically every time I went out there, he's caught."

What began as idle pregame chatter landed with the thud of reality a couple of hours later -- and really will sink in at the team banquet Sunday evening -- after the Rapids parlayed two three-run homers into a trip to the state final.

The Bruins (23-3), in the state semifinals for the second time in five years, boasted proven seniors at several positions and Division I college pitching with All-Met Justin Wright (Virginia Tech) and Pruner (Dartmouth).

Perhaps most impressive, they seemed to have fast-forwarded through any acclimation phase with John Colantuoni, the former Hylton coach who took over the Bruins program when previous coach Jerry Mobley became athletic director.

Established high school players with a new, albeit known, coach do not always translate into a successful run, at least not initially, but they did for Forest Park.

"I coached some of the kids when they were younger," Colantuoni said. "I did conditioning with the kids all year long, so I got to know the kids a lot. And then my style is a lot like Jerry's was.

"My biggest thing was I wasn't going to go in and start changing things around, because they were successful last year. I kind of stuck with the flow and then tweaked it a little bit toward the end when we had to. That's why I think it really worked."

The state semifinal started off promisingly.

Senior Anthony Ragos and junior Bobby Schwier each doubled to open the game. But James River's Austin Stadler hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the first. Chris Briere delivered another three-run homer in the fifth with Wright warming up in the bullpen.

"I tip my hat" to Pruner, said James River Coach Pete Schumacher, whose team is ranked 16th by Baseball America. "He's one of the better pitchers we've seen all year long. I thought his curveball was one of the best that we've seen."

Other than giving up two home runs, the Bruins left 10 runners on base and committed four errors to the Rapids' none.

"It's rough; we just couldn't get the runners in," said Wright, who was hitless in four at-bats. "We could have easily put up more than six runs."

"You work hard to get in a position like this because once you get here, anything can happen," Pruner said. "There's only 14 innings left, and we've played 200. Once you get to this point, it's really just a matter of the little things."

Of Forest Park's 10 hits, juniors had eight of them -- Schwier, Jamie Blackwell, Alex Jabs, Thomas and Jonathan Wright.

Still, the seniors gave the team chemistry that will be missed next season.

"I've been doing this a long time, and this is a special group," Colantuoni said. "These kids love each other. They stay together. That's the toughest part of it to me, to see [Wright] throw for the last time on the mound and not give up any runs, to see Jake busting his butt out here and then coming out of the game and keeping his team up like he's always done. Things like that are going to make it tough for me."

And what will Pruner take away from the season?

"I'm going to remember playing alongside the best friends I could have asked for," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company