With a one-run lead entering the seventh inning of the Liberty District championship baseball game and the teeth of W.T. Woodson's lineup due to bat, there was nobody else Madison baseball coach Mark Gjormand would have rather had on the mound than senior Johnny Ayers.
"I want the ball in his hands to win any game," Gjormand said. "He's as competitive a kid as I've ever been around. You just feel comfortable with him there."
Before this season, Ayers had not pitched on the varsity level. But after injuries robbed the Warhawks of two of their three of the pitchers returning from last season (Chris Wimmer and Chris Sterbenz), Ayers was asked to be Madison's closer.
"He pitched a bit in Little League," Gjormand said. "But he's got a live fastball, and he's got great mound presence."
Plus there are the intangibles. Ayers has been a three-sport star -- quarterbacking the football team and playing point guard on the boys' basketball team -- for most of his high school career. Simply put, he is what coaches call "a gamer."
"Everybody knows what he's been about," Gjormand said. "He's a three-sport athlete, an All-Met player."
And he proved his ability to come through in the clutch again Monday night. Ayers retired Woodson's No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters in the bottom of the seventh, ending the game on a strikeout to seal an 8-7 Madison victory. It gave the Warhawks their third consecutive district title.
"It was a great high school baseball game," Gjormand said.
Woodson (16-6) went up 2-0 in the top of the first, but Madison (20-3) responded with six runs in the bottom of the inning. Junior Brian Eck, who started on the mound for the Warhawks, hit a three-run home run to key the offensive explosion.
Madison took an 8-4 lead into the top of the sixth inning, but Woodson's Richard Cutts hit a solo home run, and Eck walked the next batter. That is when Gjormand called on Ayers, who earned the win in Madison's 6-4 semifinal victory over Lee with 22/3 innings of relief work. The senior gave up a walk and a two-run double that cut Madison's lead to one run, but he got out of the inning. And in the seventh, with Woodson's outstanding Matt Bianucci leading off and Cutts due up again, he shut the door.
"Everything the kid's been through, he's built for that kind of situation," Gjormand said.
Madison's No. 5 through 8 hitters went 7-for-11, led by Ray Sparrow, who was 3-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBI. Eck was 2-for-3 with four RBI and picked up the win for the Warhawks against a Woodson team that had averaged 14 runs per game in the nine games before Monday's contest.
With the victory, Madison is 92-11 over the past four years.
"It says a lot about the depth of the program," Gjormand said.
The Warhawks' depth is most apparent in their pitching staff, which has excelled despite the losses of Wimmer and Sterbenz. Eck is 5-0 on the season, freshman Jason Farley is 4-0, staff ace Matt Riffe is 7-2 and Ayers is 3-0 with four saves.
"That's the way it's always been around here," Gjormand said. "There's a lot of depth, and we feel whenever someone gets hurt, the kid that comes in steps up big."
Lake Braddock Wins Patriot
Lake Braddock's baseball team has been successful this year thanks in large part to its pitching and defense. It was no different in the Patriot District tournament.
In the championship game, a 2-1 victory over Hayfield, juniors Dan Seymour and Jason Kennedy combined to pitch a three-hitter.
"They've been our top two pitchers," Lake Braddock Coach Jody Rutherford said. "They've kind of gone back and forth."
Seymour pitched four innings in the Bruins' semifinal victory, so Rutherford expected only a couple innings from him. Seymour turned the game over in the fourth to Kennedy, who held the Hawks to one hit and picked up the victory.
Hayfield took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when starting pitcher Matt Townsend hit a solo home run. Lake Braddock had several scoring opportunities early, but stranded runners and did not execute on the base path.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, however, junior Patrick Clark led off with a triple and then scored on a wild pitch. The Bruins scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch as well.
It was the second consecutive game the Bruins came from behind to win. In the district semifinals, they scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie their game with West Springfield, then scored the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth.
Clark came through with a big hit against the Spartans as well. He hit a two-run single to tie the game with West Springfield one out away from the final.
The Bruins will play host to Centreville tomorrow in the first round of the Virginia AAA Northern Region tournament. The Wildcats beat Lake Braddock earlier in the year.