It is the bottom of the seventh inning at Falls Church High School. Wakefield pitcher Cory Redick is holding on to an 8-6 lead, but Falls Church has loaded the bases and Redick must face outfielder Joe Andrews for the game's final out.
As Andrews approaches the plate, the crowd begins to stir. Within a few moments, all attention has been shifted from the batter to the Falls Church dugout.
Out of the shadows and into the on-deck circle moves Tony Epperson, whose presence has caused the surge of excitement. Redick, fully aware the game must end with Andrews, is more fortunate than most pitchers facing Falls Church this season -- by striking out Andrews, he avoids a showdown against Epperson. Wakefield wins the regular-season finale.
Epperson, a quiet, slick-fielding senior shortstop, has hit superbly all season in leading Falls Church to a 12-6 record and a first-place tie with Stuart for the Potomac District regular-season title.
Following a 1985 season that ended with selection as first-team all-district and honorable mention All-Met, Epperson has spent 1986 compiling impressive statistics. Along with a .528 batting average, Epperson drove in 32 runs and had a .640 on-base percentage. He struck out only once during the season -- it happened in that season finale when Redick recorded 15 strikeouts.
Falls Church Coach Jim Thorpe said Epperson's "total concentration, excellent eyesight and quick hands" make him such a strong hitter.
His concentration is obvious even as he loosens up in the on-deck circle. His eyes directly on the pitcher, he heads to the plate in small, quick steps. He pauses at the edge of the batter's box one more time to glare at the pitcher. Epperson says his mannerisms are a way of preparing himself. "When I get up there, I just tell myself to relax and wait," he said. "I know he's got to throw me three good pitches."
Epperson is the Jaguars' leadoff hitter, and four times he has opened games with home runs. He is expected to carry the team's hitting attack, and he said that playing with his younger brother Cliff eases the load a bit. "Having him out there lets me know I'm not by myself. It really helps," Epperson said. Cliff, a catcher, hit .364 and was second on the team behind his brother with 28 RBI.
While coaches around the area are quick to admire Epperson's talents, they compliment his sportsmanship as well. Wakefield's baseball coach, Robert Veldran, said: "He comes from a class family and conducts himself so well out there. He's like a little professional."
Also a standout football player for the Jaguars (first team all-region in 1986), the 5-foot-10 Epperson is considering the idea of playing two sports in college. He will attend Chowan College in North Carolina, where he definitely will play football.
Epperson hopes to acclimate himself to college life and athletics at the small school. If he can keep his grades up, he hasn't "ruled out playing baseball, too."