Western Branch 3,

Westfield 2

On a day when they had to be nearly perfect to win, the Westfield Bulldogs weren't.

The Bulldogs made one too many mistakes -- a throwing error late that led to the decisive run -- in Saturday's Virginia AAA baseball championship game at War Memorial Stadium, where their remarkable postseason run was halted, 3-2, by Western Branch.

"To get here you have to do everything well," Westfield Coach Chuck Welch said. "It's a shame in a game of this magnitude that we'd have let-downs. . . . You get this far, then you get a little greedy and you want it all. I didn't start thinking about it until last night, that we could win it all."

But four-year-old Westfield, in its first title bid, saw its season end at 20-7. Meantime, Western Branch (20-8) sent its coach, Jim Stanko, into retirement after 20 years at the school with his -- and the Bruins' -- first state championship.

What Westfield's Louis Ullrich and All-Met shortstop Brandon Snyder said will haunt them are the miscues in the field, the missed opportunities at the plate and getting so far only to come up short of bringing the shiny, two-foot-high trophy back to Chantilly.

"We gave them a couple of outs and a couple of opportunities," Snyder said, "and they capitalized on them. When we made a mistake they jumped all over it."

Snyder blasted a home run over the left field fence in the fifth inning to tie the score at 2. But Westfield was undone in the next inning by a throwing gaffe.

Westfield left-hander John Lloyd (8-1) walked North Carolina State-bound Ryan Pond to lead off the sixth. The next batter grounded to the Bulldogs' third baseman, who launched the ball into center field as he attempted to throw to second for the force out. Pond scored the game-winner moments later on a groundout.

Stanko said: "We gave them their first run, they gave us our [third]."

In the seventh, Westfield, which rallied from a two-run deficit in its final at-bat Friday, came to plate with the top of its lineup due to bat. But hard throwing right-hander Matt Olson (10-0) retired the Bulldogs in order, leaving Ullrich, Westfield's senior cleanup batter, on deck.

"I was just thinking, 'Someone get on, because I want to get up,' " Ullrich said. "Errors killed us. But that's baseball. We made some mistakes at the plate, too. . . . We had our shot. It's a good feeling to know we got this far. Going from where we were four years ago to playing for a state championship, that's an accomplishment. I'm glad we made it."

The only thing more surprising than Westfield's rapid ascension as a program was the 2004 Bulldogs' comeback from a ho-hum start to the season. After struggling to a 4-5 record, the Bulldogs were at their best during the season's toughest stretch, winning 16 of their final 18 games.

Westfield took a 1-0 lead Saturday when right fielder Steven Ellis reached on an error and scored on a pair of errors. Western Branch took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning with the assistance of another Westfield mistake. The Bruins' Richard Davis scored on a shallow sacrifice fly when the Westfield center fielder's throw strayed off-target.

"We're still young," said Snyder, a junior. "Most of the few guys are coming back. We're going to be strong next year. We can't to get back here."

Westfield, which started the season 4-5, reacts after final out of the championship. "Errors killed us," senior Louis Ullrich said. "But that's baseball. We made some mistakes at the plate, too."Richard Davis scores on an errant throw after tagging up on a shallow fly in the second to put Western Branch up 2-1.