As Potomac senior pitcher John Adams warmed up Monday night as an abrupt first-inning replacement against Hylton in the Virginia AAA Northwestern Region quarterfinals, senior center fielder Mike Giarrizzi commented to sophomore left fielder Harry Williams that he had been worried about a game like this.
The Panthers had thrown to the wrong base on a double-play ball that could have gotten them out of the early jam, and ace reliever Adams was being called on with the bases loaded and one run already in.
Worse yet, the botched double play was a duplicate of one that had occurred during an intrasquad practice Saturday. At the time, it had drawn a stern correction from Coach Mike Covington, but the same player made the same mistake in the most important game of the season two days later.
That play was one of a few instances that led to the Panthers' demise in a 4-2 home loss to Hylton, ending the season of a team that had been ranked in the top five in the Washington area for much of the spring. The bitterness of the defeat had coaches and players questioning the work habits and dedication of some team members.
"I feel very, very sad for John Adams and Mike Giarrizzi, two kids that weigh 150 pounds soaking wet that got more heart and more determination than any 10 kids that I've ever had, and their teammates don't give the same thing that they give," Covington said after the game. "They are the two biggest lions that I have that won't back down an inch from anybody. And you would think that other people would follow that example, but we don't.
"For them to get shortchanged today, with the team that has enough talent to win the state championship, that I don't forgive for the rest of them. And [Adams and Giarrizzi] shouldn't forgive it either. But I'm sure they'll go home, and some of them will forget it tomorrow, and it won't faze them a lick. Until we get over that or get some different guys who don't feel that way, we're always going to be pretty tough because of how much we work at it, but we'll always get to these points right here. And you know what? You can't hide those guys. The ball finds them, all the time."
In addition to the double-play ball in the first, the Panthers committed a two-run fielding error in the fifth that gave Hylton a 4-0 lead. They scored twice in the bottom of the sixth but could manage no more despite having the bases loaded and one out. They put two runners on in the seventh, but the last two batters struck out swinging against Hylton senior Jorge Laboy.
"The intensity wasn't there, and the work ethic hadn't been there the past couple days," Adams said Tuesday. "We kind of had it coming, but we really didn't want it to end that way. . . . I really didn't think we would lose to [Hylton], but the guys didn't play as hard as they needed to or as hard as they should have. They didn't want it enough."
Potomac (21-3) beat Hylton (14-9) 7-0 and 9-1 this season, both times with junior Matt Rainbolt pitching. Rainbolt started Monday but gave up two hits to start the game, and after the error on the double-play ball, walked in a run. Adams then came on and coerced a double play that knocked in a second run.
"It's something I'm never going to forget," Giarrizzi said Tuesday. "I've had a gut instinct that people were starting to wind down a little bit. You could see it in practice. In our intrasquad, we had a billion errors. It wasn't looking good. . . . It kind of happened last year, too. I felt people were quitting on us then."
Potomac lost, 14-0, to George Washington-Danville in the 2003 region quarterfinals.
"All four years, the only thing I ever won was a district championship," added Giarrizzi, who threw a no-hitter last week against Stonewall Jackson in the district final. "[At] Potomac, everyone there has always experienced something special. Well, my class hasn't. All we saw was a regional first round, and that's terrible, especially with the amount of talent we had this year. It's going to be [remembered as] a failing season."