Matt Steele often flies solo in a Cessna 172, so pressure situations on the baseball field don't fluster Fauquier's senior shortstop.
With this in mind, it was not a surprise that Steele skillfully executed a handful of plays in the most crucial moments of a Region II semifinal against Stone Bridge on Wednesday night. With the game tied and pushed into extra innings, Steele started two inning-ending double plays that got the Falcons out of bases-loaded jams. And he dazzled the crowd -- and even the opposing coach -- with four other spectacular stops in Fauquier's 7-6, 11-inning victory.
"He must have made six plays for them that saved runs," Stone Bridge Coach Sam Plank said. "It was like I could almost hear him saying, 'Hit me the ball.' Players like that, that's how you advance in this tournament."
He made a back-handed grab on a hard-hit shot and played a chopper up the middle high off his chest, turning both into groundouts. A line drive headed toward left field was snared by the 5-foot-3 Steele, who leaped "as high as he is tall," Fauquier Coach Paul Koch said.
"It was one thing after another," Koch said. "On that back-handed play he was off-balance and had to throw back across the diamond for the out, and I didn't even know he had that kind of arm strength. . . . He was a difference-maker out there."
Perhaps it's because Steele, a natural second baseman who moved to shortstop this year to fulfill a need for the team, is no stranger to hard work. To earn his pilot's license, he had to put in 40 hours of training and pass written tests and a check ride with an instructor. That all came in addition to his schoolwork, year-round baseball and, until this season, wrestling.
"Getting the license was very, very hard," said Steele, who flies once a week among Culpeper, Warrenton, Manassas, Shenandoah and beyond. "But just like with anything else, the hard work paid off. That's always been my approach to baseball, too. I try to play the game as hard as I can. I just want to be respected out there."
That is not a problem for the feisty Steele, Koch said.
"He knows the other guys look up to him," Koch said. "He knows the game so well and how to communicate with his teammates, too. He knows who to pat on the butt and who to kick in the butt. Sometimes it takes coaches years to figure that out.
"The other night the guys needed his leadership, and he gave it."