Joey Devlin was summoned into the 16-year-old Babe Ruth World Series semifinal game Friday night far earlier and for much longer than he or Greater Loudoun ever expected.
But with a gutsy performance over more than six innings in relief, the right-handed Devlin kept the game close for the Lions. That allowed him and his teammates to chip away at an early deficit and pull out a stunning 7-6 victory over Stamford, Conn., at Fireman's Field in Purcellville.
Thanks to Devlin and Conor Mullee's game-winning hit, Greater Loudoun earned a spot in yesterday's World Series championship game. The Lions were attempting to become the first host team in history to win the 16-year-old title and were scheduled to play Syracuse in the final.
"He's pitched so many big innings for us all season long," Greater Loudoun Manager Sam Plank said of Devlin. "I told him that all he needed to do is keep us close. Then I thought we could have a chance."
Devlin entered the game in relief of lefty Casey Hartman after Hartman surrendered five runs over the first nine batters. Devlin picked off a runner, struck out a batter and was on his way.
Over 62/3innings, Devlin allowed three hits and only one seventh-inning run. He provided the tying run in the fifth, and pinch-runner Hartman scored another tying run in the seventh after Devlin had drawn a leadoff walk.
"I was a little bit nervous when I came in with a five-run [deficit]," Devlin said. "I had a great defense behind me, and I knew we could keep it close."
Devlin's heroic play was just one more sparkling performance in Greater Loudoun's remarkable display in the World Series.
Hartman had started the tournament with a spectacular complete-game victory over Mobile, Ala., on Aug. 14. Scott Van Dusseldorp came through with a pinch-hit single to drive in the winning run Tuesday night as the Lions clinched first place in their pool with a 2-1 victory over Syracuse.
"We really want to show that we're here to win, not just to show up," Mullee said. "We're showing people we can play."
Said Plank: "If you'd have told me before the tournament that we'd make it to this point, I'd have been excited, but I probably wouldn't have thought it was true."
Greater Loudoun had displayed plenty of magic throughout pool play with three one-run wins and an 11-run blowout. But on Friday, the Lions pulled out their most stunning and improbable victory.
Greater Loudoun trailed 5-0, but came back to tie the game at 5. In the fourth, back-to-back singles by James Timbers and David Ball and a walk to Mullee loaded the bases. Jason Lombard took the first pitch he saw and ripped a triple to left field to drive in all three base runners. When Lombard scored on a wild pitch, the Lions had pulled to within 5-4.
"I thought they'd be giving me a fastball; I knew he wasn't going to give off-speed stuff to the bottom of the order," Lombard said.
Greater Loudoun lost the lead by giving up a run in the seventh but scored twice in the bottom of the seventh, capped by the two-out, two-strike single by Mullee.
It was a startling turnaround for Greater Loudoun. Stamford scored nearly as many runs in the top of the first (five) as Greater Loudoun had yielded in its four previous games (six). But Devlin, as he had done all summer for Loudoun as a key utility player, provided the boost to keep the game close.
"Joey kept us in the ballgame," Plank said. "He did a great job."