Things could only get better for Hylton's baseball team following its March 5 season opener at rival Battlefield — or so its players hoped. There, the Bulldogs served as the latest victims of pitcher Jake Agnos, who tossed a no-hitter against a Hylton team with high hopes for the spring campaign.


“After that loss, we realized we had a lot of work to do,” Hylton senior Fox Semones said. “We had to focus on all the small things to go get the mentality that we needed to dominate every aspect of the game.”

Two weeks later, it was Semones, spurred by his own offseason focus on the subtle mechanics of pitching, who helped Hylton quickly turn around its season. The James Madison recruit struck out a career-high 13 batters in 5 1/3 innings in a 6-1 win against eventual Virginia 5A North region champion Mountain View in the Let's Play Two tournament final.

Semones's effort earned him tournament MVP honors and sparked the Bulldogs' own run to the 6A South region title, which they secured Friday with a 7-3 win against Cosby. In that game, the senior was 2 for 4 with an RBI and run scored, extending his hitting streak to 12 games.

The bookend efforts encapsulate a season during which Semones has taken the reins for Hylton's deeply talented team. After spending the offseason fine-tuning his pitching, hitting four times a week and committing to play at JMU over Army, Bucknell and Columbia, Semones threw his focus into becoming a complete player for the Bulldogs during his senior season.

"Working on my pitching was a big help," said Semones, who is 4-1 with a 0.22 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings. "We've got the sort of team where every game we have the potential for strong pitching, and that gives us the confidence to get it done."


Along with starters Trey Shepard and Ryan Billy, Semones has become part of a formidable trio during the postseason that’s built momentum for Hylton entering this weekend’s 6A state tournament. Semones has also helped his cause at the plate, hitting .471 with 22 RBI and 20 runs scored to earn Conference 4 player of the year.

But for him, the greatest validation could come this weekend at Robinson. Awaiting the Bulldogs in Friday's semifinal is the same Battlefield team that blanked them to start the season, providing another chance for Semones and company to show just how far they've progressed this spring.

"We kind of wanted to see them in the championship to make things even more interesting. But we'll have the same mentality we had during region, which was to not get down mentally at any point," Semones said. "I think they'll see a team whose bats are stronger, for sure, and that we're more of a team and not individuals. We know how to pick each other up."

NUMBER CRUNCH: 6
Consecutive Virginia region titles won by Battlefield's girls' soccer team following Friday's 2-0 win against T.C. Williams. After winning three straight Northwest region finals, the Bobcats have captured the past three 6A North region crowns since the state switched from three classes to six.

PHOTO GALLERY OF THE DAY
Chantilly tallied five runs on four hits to surge forward in an 8-3 win against Battlefield, securing its second Virginia 6A North region baseball title in three years. Here's the story from Friday's game, and below are pictures from the action.

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WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Boys' soccer: Washington-Lee at Yorktown, 7

The Arlington Derby takes center stage tonight as crosstown rivals collide for the Virginia 6A North region championship in a rematch of the Conference 6 title game. The Patriots dealt Washington-Lee its only loss of the season, but with Gatorade national player of the year Lucas Mendes leading the way, the Generals are motivated to finally claim an elusive title. Follow Nick Eilerson (@NickEilerson) for updates from Arlington.