Big Incentive for Fauquier

The reward at the end of the Babe Ruth Southeast Region tournament is easy enough for Steve Palese to use as motivation: If his Fauquier team can make the most of home-field advantage and win the 10-team event, it will earn a spot in next month's 16-year-old World Series.

Fauquier will play Oviedo (Fla.) at 8 p.m. tomorrow in one of two opening-round games in the Southeast Region; a Greater Loudoun team will meet Albemarle (N.C.) at 10 a.m. All games for the double-elimination tournament, which is scheduled to conclude Wednesday, will be played at Fauquier High School.

"We want to keep it in perspective," said Palese, whose team has played only eight games together but is undefeated. "We don't want to get big heads, but we don't want the guys to think there's no way we can do this. We definitely have a talented enough group. . . . We have to stay focused and stay on task.

"But that's my job. [The players] just have to go out and play baseball."

Perhaps the strength of the Fauquier team lies in its experienced pitching staff. Ryan Crosby (Notre Dame) will start the first game.

"He's a great kid and has a level head," Palese said. "He may only be 15 years old, but he's probably one of the most mature kids on the team."

But Palese also has a host of other pitchers with varsity high school experience to call on throughout the tournament. Brandon Bartlett, Michael Manfro and Rick Mountjoy were key members of Fauquier's pitching staff this past spring, and brothers Buddy and Anthony Sosnoskie pitched for Liberty.

"We're going to be facing the best of the best, and it's going to be a real challenge to get these guys out," Palese said. "We're going to be playing teams that have been playing all year around since they were 9 and 10 years old. . . . I would expect them to be at the top of their games."

Momentum for Lions

The Greater Loudoun Lions, the host team for the 16-year-old World Series, have been rounding into top form of late. The Lions won all four games they played this past weekend as their pre-World Series schedule of games winds down.

Outfielder Rusty Smith (Heritage) has been a key during the recent surge, during which Greater Loudoun has been much more productive on offense.

"This team has always played good defense," Coach Sam Plank said. "We haven't always swung the bats. But they seem to do better against good pitching . . . and we've beaten some good teams."

Plank moved Smith to the leadoff spot a couple of weeks ago, and Smith has responded by reaching base safely on a consistent basis and coming up with timely hits, Plank said.

Casey Hartman and Joey Devlin pitched well last weekend as the Lions swept two doubleheaders, but Greater Loudoun's staff received bad news last week when expected starter Ryan Shugars was lost for the summer season. Shugars has a muscle injury in his right (throwing) shoulder, Plank said, and will be rehabilitating for the next few months.

In addition to an invigorated offense, Plank has seen his Greater Loudoun team begin to come together. On a roster with players from seven high schools, team unity has started to develop.

"They're having fun in the dugout," Plank said. At the beginning of the summer, it was "kind of hard to claim them as your own. . . . But they're getting to know me.

"If a team likes each other, they'll have fun together. And as long as they're able to show up on game day, that's the mix you're looking for."

-- DREW VANESSELSTYN