Stone Bridge's baseball team walked silently toward its home dugout Monday night after a 9-3 loss to Western Albemarle in a Virginia AA Region II quarterfinal. The sting of the defeat was not only particularly sharp because the Bulldogs held what seemed a comfortable 3-0 lead headed into the fifth inning, but also because the loss meant the end of the season.
For the team's four seniors -- Brett Donahue, Andrew Ryan, Sean Ryan and James Timbers -- it also marked the end of their high school baseball careers.
But there were no tears from the Stone Bridge contingent. No talk, either, of feeling devastated -- only disappointed.
That's because Stone Bridge sophomore Megan Ryan, the younger sister of All-Met center fielder Sean Ryan and the girlfriend of junior shortstop David Ball, has given the Bulldogs -- and the entire Ashburn community -- a new sense of perspective.
Megan Ryan, 16, was diagnosed in August with osteosarcoma, a rare childhood bone cancer. She underwent a complete knee and femur replacement surgery in January and continues weekly chemotherapy treatments.
"I've learned to look at the bigger picture, and so I know it's not the end of the world that we did lose," Sean Ryan said. "And I learned that from Megan."
Throughout her recovery, Megan Ryan missed only two baseball games. Both were not only losses but also no-hitters against the Bulldogs, who went on to claim their third consecutive AA Dulles District championship.
"Everything that Megan has been through put things into perspective for us," Stone Bridge Coach Sam Plank said after Monday night's defeat. "Of course we wanted to win. But this is a game. The fight she's going through is completely different.
"There's no question our whole team rallied around the Ryan family. And I think being out here with us, watching the sport she loves has helped her, too."
Megan Ryan sat in the stands Monday night and cheered, like many other Stone Bridge fans, in a specially designed baseball hat and T-shirt that read: "SLAM: Smiles, Laughs and Miracles." The SLAM theme was created by her friend, Lindsay Rohr, the cousin of former Bulldog pitcher Ryan Rohr. Ball created the design, which includes the letters SLAM running vertically down a baseball and bats placed among the words on the back of the shirt.
"I don't really draw much," Ball said. "But I did this one thing in calligraphy for Megan when she was in ICU and had it framed, and I guess everyone liked that. So they told me about SLAM and asked me to put it all together."
Said Megan, laughing: "They did all the work. I'm just the patient."
The items are being sold for $20 per set as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society in conjunction with the upcoming Relay for Life walk to be held Saturday and Sunday at Potomac Falls High in Sterling. Relay for Life is an overnight event designed to celebrate survivorship and support research programs. The Ryans' Relay for Life team has raised more than $6,000 with the sale of the shirts and hats as well as other donations.
"We're going to keep selling them at the event, too," Megan Ryan said. "And since it's a baseball theme we're also selling hot dogs and cracker jacks. How great is that?"