There was little reason for Hylton players to think they had much of a chance to mount a rally against Forest Park in the Cardinal District semifinals Monday, trailing by four runs entering the bottom of the seventh. Even senior Nate Hartman, who eventually rapped the winning hit, figured his team was done.
True, Hylton had totaled 19 runs against the Bruins in two wins this season. But it had managed just one through six innings on this night, and Forest Park had scored three in the top of the seventh -- two on a single by senior Brett Lyons -- deflating the Bulldogs' hopes.
So it was no wonder that several minutes after Hylton's remarkable 6-5 comeback victory, one bystander gushed, "That was a movie!"
If so, it starred seniors Brian Antolick, Jorge Laboy and Hartman, all of whom knocked in runs with two outs in the seventh to carry Hylton (13-8) into the district championship and to a third Northwestern Region tournament berth in four years.
The Bulldogs will face top seed Gar-Field (16-4) -- a 3-0 semifinal winner over Woodbridge (8-13) -- in the district final at 6 tonight at Hylton. Forest Park (7-12) was the defending district and region champion.
"To be honest with you," Hartman said, "as soon as [Lyons] hit that single down the line, I was pretty sure that we had [lost]."
Senior Jacob Himan led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, but the next two batters struck out. That brought freshman Mike Furr, the No. 9 batter, to the plate. Furr singled to right, and Bruins senior reliever Will Nance plunked senior Jonathon Colantuoni with a pitch to load the bases.
Antolick tripled the next pitch to the right field corner, clearing the bases, to make it 5-4. Laboy singled to left to drive in the tying run and moved up on two balls in the dirt. After throwing three pitches to junior Ryan Wood, the Bruins intentionally walked him to face Hartman, who is 4-0 on the mound this season but has languished in the eighth and ninth spots in the order before moving up to the five hole two games ago.
"The bats just came alive. What do you say?" said Hylton Coach John Colantuoni, whose team is 61-28 the past four seasons. "But I really believe that the seniors didn't want to stop playing."
Just as the odds were stacked against Hylton in making the comeback, the Bulldogs think those odds might have turned slightly in their favor for the championship. For one, the team will be coming off an inspiring victory. They lost twice this season to Gar-Field -- 1-0 games both times -- and sophomore left-hander Eddie West, who pitched in the semifinal Monday. So the Bulldogs will see a right-hander tonight. And they will be playing on their home field.
"It feels so good to have something in our favor for once," Hartman said. "It's the first time something's really gone our way all season. . . . Everything just looks good for us right now."
The Cardinal and Cedar Run districts are paired in the first round of the region tournament, which begins Monday, with the district tournament champions hosting quarterfinal games.
Stonewall Chases Another Title
Stonewall Jackson, which after finishing 1-20 two seasons ago was just hoping to become more competitive, tonight could win a second straight Cedar Run District title.
On Monday, junior right-hander Garrett Smith, who beat Potomac in the district final last year, hurled a three-hitter in a 4-2 semifinal victory over tournament host Osbourn Park (12-10), which had swept the Raiders (9-11) this season.
Because regular season district champion Potomac (20-2) also won its semifinal, 4-3 over Osbourn (6-14), Stonewall has qualified for the region tournament regardless of the outcome in the championship at 7 tonight at Osbourn Park.
Smith had struggled this season but ironed out his mechanics over the weekend with a coach he consults in Culpeper. He also watched old game tapes of himself to spot any flaws in his delivery. The outing Monday certainly should earn a prominent spot in his video library. Smith carried a shutout into the seventh inning before Osbourn Park senior Adam Kearney hit a two-run home run with one out.
"He's pretty tough to beat when he's on," Stonewall Coach Andy Devitt said. "It hasn't been very often this year, and he'll be the first one to tell you he's struggled. But when he gets everything going the right way, he's a pretty solid pitcher. We needed him tonight. Flat out needed him, and he came out and did a heck of a job."
The key offensive play for the Raiders came in the fourth inning when junior Bill Thompson hit a two-run double for a 3-0 lead.
Stonewall beat Potomac, 4-1, on April 22, with Smith pitching. Potomac won the second meeting, 4-0, on May 11, also against Smith. And it was Smith who pitched Stonewall to a 5-2 win over Potomac last season in the district championship.
Just as the Raiders have counted on Smith in clutch spots, they also have counted on Devitt. The coach got hit by a batted ball in practice in late March and spent much of the spring trying to communicate through a wired jaw. The Raiders say they were not the same team with their coach all but silenced.
"The team wasn't really sticking together," Smith said. "It was tough because he's a leader, and sometimes when I'm down and the rest of the seniors are down he's there and gets us going again. With him not being able to talk and him not being there, we just fell apart. When he came back, we started to pick it up. As he got better, we got better."