By finishing second in the Concorde District during the regular season, Westfield's baseball team secured a spot in the Virginia AAA Northern Region tournament for the first time in program history. Tomorrow, the Bulldogs will play the winner of the game between Oakton and Centreville in the Concorde District tournament. But no matter what happens, they already have accomplished one of their main goals by reaching reigons.

"For a lot of programs that might not sound like a big deal, but it meant a lot for us to get that automatic bid," Westfield Coach Chuck Welch said. "It certainly was one of our goals, and I like our chances going into the tournament -- I feel like a lot of pressure has been taken off of us by getting the automatic bid."

The Bulldogs were able to finish second in the district thanks to an impressive late-season run. After starting the year 4-5, Westfield won seven of its last eight games.

"I think we're playing real well right now," Welch said. "I think our pitching has been very strong and that we have a pretty good chance of finishing strong in the district."

Four of the Bulldogs earned first-team All-District honors -- juniors Brandon Snyder and John Lloyd and seniors Jason Bour and Louis Ullrich.

Snyder is batting .480 with 24 RBI and six home runs, Lloyd has been effective on the mound -- with a 1.96 ERA in 25 innings pitched -- and Bour, a catcher, has played well behind the plate and offensively (.417, nine RBI, three home runs). The feel-good story has been Ullrich, who missed all but three games last season due to two stress fractures in his back. He spent three months in a body cast, then slowly returned to the diamond. This season he has been the Bulldogs' ace. In the regular season he went 4-2 with a 1.44 ERA and 27 strikeouts.

"He's been very solid," Welch said. "He's certainly our big-game guy."

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Ullrich is a power pitcher who throws a curveball, changeup and fastball. "But by far his strength is his competitiveness," Welch said. "He's just a fighter by nature. He doesn't want to give in."

That was evident during the trying 2003 season. After playing three games, Ullrich had to miss the rest of the Bulldogs' campaign and all of summer ball.

"It was really tough," Ullrich said. "It was the worst thing to see all of my friends doing great. I wanted to be out there with them so much. It made me appreciate it so much more. Since I've been back I've been working hard and throwing every day."

Ullrich has batted from the cleanup spot and hit .345. At the plate is the lone area where his back has effected the Longwood University-bound senior.

"It's the only thing that's been an issue," Welch said. "He's a little leery about his back . . . I'm sure it's always in the back of his mind that [his back] could go again. But with his personality, it doesn't surprise me he's having success."

"Physically, pitching is fine, everything feels good," Ullrich said. "Not as much when I'm hitting, but afterwards, when I take a lot of swings in the cage, I feel, not pain, but just that I know the injury was there. It reminds me to be careful."

Other Bulldogs who have made major contributions are senior centerfielder Chris Wilson (.429, 11 RBI) and sophomore Justin Bour, the brother of Jason. Justin Bour, who has played first base, is hitting .417 with 17 RBI and four home runs.

"I think we're just having a lot of fun now," Ullrich said. "At first we were uptight, but now we're just used to each other and we're getting after it."

Westfield's Steven Ellis is greeted after crossing the plate during a win over Oakton. Westfield placed second in the Concorde District.