Potomac junior P.J. Tierno lays down a sacrifice bunt that leads to the tying run in the Northwestern Region quarterfinal win over Courtland. Junior Derek Daskalakes drives home the tying run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning of the regional semifinal against Gar-Field. Freshman Tony Blackwell singles to start a late rally in that game. Freshman Mike Fravel caps it with a three-run homer. Junior Phil Arellano quietly goes 4 for 8 in the region tournament. Sophomore Derrick Dent fully extends to dive for a catch in left field Friday night -- in warmups.
None of those Potomac players is Danny Lopaze, Jose Pabon, Steve Gonzalez or Chris Garris. But all have played critical, and often overlooked, roles for the Panthers this season.
They likely must continue to do so if regional runner-up Potomac (22-3) is to beat Central Region champion Mills Godwin (21-4) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Virginia AAA state quarterfinals.
Pitcher/catcher Lopaze and shortstop Pabon, deemed by Baseball America as two of Virginia's top nine eligible players for the major league draft this week, give Potomac the gloss of having a star-studded, veteran team. But beyond those two, and maybe Gonzalez, there is no player in the Panthers' order that is going to spook a pitcher such as George Washington-Danville senior Whitt Farr, who struck out seven of the 10 batters he faced Friday night in Potomac's 8-6 home loss in the regional championship.
The Panthers have relied heavily on Lopaze and Pabon, the only seniors in the starting lineup, and have relied a little bit on everybody else at any given time.
"They get a lot of big hits," Coach Mike Covington said of some of his less-heralded players. "They don't get a lot of them, but they get a lot of big hits."
"They've grown up," Lopaze said. "They realize that you can't just come out and be a rah-rah team."
But there has been plenty to cheer about, including Arellano's ball-hawking, Tierno's fire, Blackwell's maturity, Fravel's potentially booming bat, Daskalakes' infield versatility and Dent's fence-crashing mind-set.
"It's just play your roles and do what you're supposed to do, and they've been doing that pretty much the latter part of the season," Lopaze said. "If they do something wrong, I feel I'm responsible because I'm the one who should be showing them what to do right and how to do things.
"If someone's doing something wrong, I'm going to get on them -- friend or not -- and I'm going to let them know what they're doing out there. I don't care what it takes to get it through their head, I'm going to do it. If it takes a punch in the nose, I'll punch them in the nose to get it through to them. They know that and they respect that."
Lopaze took a softer approach with Fravel. He counseled the freshman on hitting, stressing a balance of relaxation and focus. So ever since, Fravel has been wearing a homemade wristband with "relax" on one side and "focus" on the other.
"They don't treat you like a freshman; they treat you like you're as old as them," Fravel said. "In this park, we're all equals. Danny doesn't beat around the bush. If he doesn't think you're playing to your capabilities, he'll tell you real quick to pick it up or relax."
After 25 games, Fravel thinks nothing of waltzing to the on-deck circle and draping an arm around Pabon, who finds it easy to relate to the younger players.
"I remember how it was for me," Pabon said. "I was a real bad head case. When I struck out, I'd be mad, and I'd be out for the rest of the day.
"This game, you have to have a short memory to play it. That's what I'm trying to teach these younger guys."
CAPTION: Although often overlooked, Mike Fravel has made crucial plays to help Potomac reach 22-3.
CAPTION: Freshman Tony Blackwell may stand in the shadows of standout seniors Danny Lopaze and Jose Pabon, but he has learned how to make his presence felt during critical moments for the Panthers.