Nottoway 13, Fauquier 8
Like everyone else associated with the Fauquier baseball team, first-year coach Paul Koch wasn't quite ready for the 10th-ranked Falcons' season to end Tuesday night in Warrenton.
When it did -- with a heartbreaking 13-8 loss to Nottoway in nine innings in a Virginia AA quarterfinal -- he huddled his team together for one last speech and took time to offer a handshake, and a hug, to each of the team's five seniors.
Fauquier had exceeded expectations, winning 16 of its last 18 games to earn the Northwestern District championship and the first Region II title in school history.
"I've coached a lot of awesome kids, but these guys -- this group right there -- is the most special group I've ever been a part of," said Koch, pointing to his team in the dugout behind him. "We had a lot of nonbelievers outside of this program, and we proved them wrong.
"My goal in my first year here was to make sure these guys believed in themselves, no matter what anyone else thought. And it started out a little rough, but once they figured out they were a pretty darn good team and started playing with confidence. . . . Well, they played their way all the way to the state tournament."
The Falcons' last two victories were the most dramatic -- and certainly most important -- of the season. Fauquier fought back from early game deficits to defeat Stone Bridge, 7-6, in 11 innings in a region semifinal June 2 to secure a state playoff berth. They turned in a 6-5 victory over visiting Sherando on Saturday with a two-out, RBI single by senior Matt Orner in the bottom of the seventh to win the region crown.
"Both of those games were huge, but the win over Stone Bridge is the one I'll never forget," senior third baseman Dan Zyla said. "That's the one that got us to states. It was also the one that just went the way our whole season did. We fought for 11 innings and never gave up. That's how we played all year."
Fauquier (19-7) almost pulled it off again Tuesday, taking a 8-7 lead over Nottoway. But the Cougars (16-9) tied the game in the seventh and scored five times in the ninth.
"You always want to walk away and be able to look back at all the things you did, but it's going to be awfully hard not to look at this one and see what we didn't do," senior shortstop Matt Steele said. "To lose 13-8 under normal circumstances would be one thing, but to be one out away and fall apart. . . . That's just so tough to take."
In all, four Falcons pitchers combined to yield 17 hits, walking six batters and striking out three.
"This isn't the way any of us wanted it to end," said sophomore starter Michael Manfro, who pitched the first three innings Tuesday and finished the season with a 6-1 record. "It was horrible. We all wanted to at least get to the state final four. But the thing is, we also did so much more this season than even we maybe expected at the beginning of the season. I already can't wait until next year."