Tom Lucero knew he was going to be fighting an uphill battle in the Southeast Region Babe Ruth tournament. The coach's 16- to 18-year-old Loudoun team was going up against some of the best squads in the tournament's strongest region, and his team didn't have the benefit of having played in a state tournament.
The host Loudoun team was eliminated from the regional tournament Friday, losing to Florida, 10-3, on a sun-scorched Broad Run High School baseball field in Ashburn. Loudoun dropped the first game, 8-2, to Alabama on Thursday night.
The Florida team was from Sarasota, a baseball-crazy area on the state's west coast. Florida cruised through its state tournament, winning most of its games by the slaughter rule.
"I think we played well, but I don't think we gave a good indication of how good we really are," Lucero said. "I would have liked to have the boys out there a little more [practicing], but coming into the tournament I thought we were just as good as any other team out there."
Under Loudoun County's water restrictions, high school athletic fields can be watered, but it wasn't evident at Broad Run. It was hard to tell where the infield dirt ended and the outfield grass began on the Broad Run field, and the dry conditions made cutting off any line drive in the gap extremely difficult for Loudoun outfielders.
The dry grass also made the natural grass outfield play more like artificial turf, as center fielder Shawn James found out in the fourth inning. With runners on first and second, Florida's Steve Hassett came to the plate and drilled a line drive to center. But the ball bounced over James's head and rolled all the way to the wall for an RBI triple and a 7-3 Florida lead. But James did make a good recovery, and Loudoun was able to throw out Mike Mask trying to score.
Loudoun actually held a 3-2 lead in the second, when starting pitcher J.R. Creamer drove in Darrin London with a single, and Mike Geaneas drove in Jeff Gaskins with a sacrifice fly to left field.
But Florida dominated from there. Florida banged out six extra-base hits in the game, including a Joel Vasquez three-run homer in the third that cleared the left field wall by about 50 feet.
Florida also got a strong pitching performance from Justin Schreiber, who came off the bench to relieve starter Steve Mock in the third inning. Schreiber limited Loudoun to two hits over the last five innings, striking out four.
Although it didn't have the benefit of playing in state tournaments like the rest of the teams in the regional, Loudoun did play in the Mudcats Tournament at Fireman's Field in Purcellville three weeks ago and finished 3-1.
The team also practiced almost every other day in what shortstop Dan Street called "getting-to-know-you practices." Players from high schools in Loudoun and Clarke counties comprised the Loudoun team.
"I'm proud of our team, but not our performance," said Street, who graduated from Loudoun Valley High School in 1998 and now plays at University of Virginia. "Everyone was willing to work hard out there."
Florida 204 400 0--10
Loudoun 120 000 0--3
Mock, Schreiber (3) and Brennan. Creamer, D. Street (3) Jas. Hough (5) and Crowe, Pullen (5). HR: Vasquez (third, two on).
Babe Ruth Southeast Tournaments
* 13-year-olds, at Fireman's Field, Purcellville
* 16- to 18-year-olds, at Broad Run High School, Ashburn
* Semifinals: Today, 1 (winners' bracket), 4 and 7 p.m. (losers' bracket)
* Finals: Monday, 6 and 8:30 p.m. (latter game if necessary)
* More information: www.aenetwork.com/ vbr/region99.html