James Wood 2, Loudoun Valley 1

No matter how talented Loudoun Valley's deep pitching staff is or becomes this season, the work of the Vikings' young arms will be wasted if they aren't given ample run support.

Junior Chris Cox and sophomore Paul Holden combined to limit James Wood to two hits Friday at Fireman's Field, but the Vikings could muster only three of their own and lost, 2-1, in a nondistrict game.

Although Cox was undone by control problems, walking seven batters in 32/3 innings and allowing a first-inning run on four walks, he pitched out of jams and left the bases loaded in the first two innings.

Holden went the rest of the way and allowed only two runners, on a walk and a throwing error. The pair combined to strike out 11 Colonels (1-1).

At the plate, Loudoun Valley (0-2) scored on singles by Tate Williams and Tyler Owens and Nick vonGersdorff's groundout in the second inning. Junior catcher Bobby Stakes was the Vikings' only other base runner, courtesy of a sixth-inning single.

"We had an opportunity to score in one inning, and that was it," Loudoun Valley Coach Wayne Todd said. "We can't afford to go out there and get games pitched like that and not put up three or four runs."

The Vikings' challenge is in sharp contrast to recent years, when they had plenty of experienced hitters. With only four seniors on the roster, there are spots available to replace last season's top four hitters, all of whom graduated after batting .298 or higher in 2002.

"We can be hitting a lot better," said Cox, who hit .288 last season. "We have kids who can crush the ball."

With their strong pitching staff, the Vikings don't necessarily need a lot of power at the plate, just solid hitting. In addition to Cox and Holden, the top two starters last year, Todd likes the potential of sophomore hurlers Alex Byrd and Brandon Michon and senior David Bell.

"He tells us that we've got a lot of potential to be great," Holden said, "but we've also got potential not to be great."

The Vikings say the key to achieving the former is practice time, something they've had little of on an actual field.

"Working in a gym is totally different," said Cox, who had not thrown off a mound this season until Thursday, when he threw about 20 pitches in the bullpen. "We just need some time on the mound. There's a huge difference between being on a flat [ground] and on the mound."

Batting practice, too, is much different on the field.

"Not seeing live pitching, the speed and movement of the ball," Holden said. "It's a huge difference between [facing] a high school pitcher and a coach" in the gym.

Despite walking seven batters in 32/3 innings, Vikings starter Chris Cox, above, pitched out of jams, leaving the bases loaded in the first two innings. Below, Loudoun Valley players huddle for a pre-game cheer. The Vikings, who struggled at the plate, scored their only run in the second inning. Nick vonGersdorff (3) takes a toss from teammate Tate Williams of Loudoun Valley, which is 0-2.