The St. John’s baseball team, shown here celebrating the 2016 WCAC championship, is facing stiff competition for this year’s title. (Brandon Parker/The Washington Post)

THE PAYOFF: Washington Catholic Athletic Conference Coaches are already lining up their starting pitchers for the league’s grueling tournament, which starts at the end of the week. And if recent results are any indication, St. John’s is going to face some stiff competition in its quest to win a fourth straight conference title.

Teams potentially play seven games in nine days, depending on the results of three-game series in the semifinals and finals. But regular season seeding is even more important before even considering those final rounds of the playoffs.

The league’s top teams — St. John’s, DeMatha and Paul VI — are jockeying for positioning to avoid a tough draw in the WCAC’s do-or-die quarterfinal on Saturday. It’s the only round of the conference tournament not played in a three-game series format, and all four quarterfinal games a year ago were won by a single run. That’s because the league’s managers vow to make their entire pitching staffs available, meaning every team throws their top arm.

“Everybody has one plus arm, and they’re all afraid of who everyone else is going to throw,” DeMatha Coach Sean O’Connor said.

The Stags (17-6, 11-3 WCAC) are knocking on St. John’s door for the top spot in the conference standings. They can take over if the Cadets fall to McNamara or St. Mary’s Ryken, both WCAC bottom-dwellers, this week. O’Connor is hoping to line up either bulldog Thomas Keehn or finesse pitcher Marcus Brown for that quarterfinal game.

St. John’s (17-6, 12-2 WCAC) dropped consecutive games to Paul VI and DeMatha last week, and has been without its ace, junior right-hander Jake Steinberg, since an arm injury sidelined him during a spring break tournament in Florida. The Cadets are looking for their fourth straight WCAC title.

That’s left Zach Tsakounis as the go-to starter down the stretch. He threw Saturday in a 10-1 win against Gonzaga and allowed one run over four innings while striking out six and will likely get a full week’s rest before starting to open tournament play.

Paul VI faced Good Counsel on both Saturday and Sunday due to early-season rain outs and lost both games in extra innings. The Panthers can lock up third place in the WCAC with a win Monday against McNamara, but with a loss and a Good Counsel win could fall to the four spot.

Coach Billy Emerson is still considering the order of his starting rotation for a playoff run. The Panthers (16-8, 10-5 WCAC), who use three starters, end their season on Monday, meaning two pitchers will get the benefit of a week of rest, and the third will also be uninhibited by pitch count limits.

For now, coaches say, the team to avoid is Gonzaga, the league’s fifth-place ballclub. The Eagles have split their season series with DeMatha and Good Counsel, and have close losses to St. John’s and Paul VI. They boast two power starters in Will Thomas and Teddy Blumenauer, both of whom are among the region’s top five in strikeouts.

“Everybody has that one guy,” Emerson said of the league’s pitching talent. “You certainly want to be higher up in the standings and maybe you get somebody who hasn’t been as consistent, but everybody has that one guy who can come out and kill you.”

» MADISON’S WIN STREAK IS STILL alive. After defeating South Lakes 13-0 on Friday, the streak has stretched to 17 games. It has been 42 days since the No. 3 Warhawks’ first and only loss on Opening Day.

April the giraffe was still pregnant when Madison (17-1) lost to Fairfax on March 23. The Major League Baseball regular season hadn’t started yet. The Washington Capitals had 9/2 odds to win the Stanley Cup.

Here’s a look at the area’s top active winning streaks.


» THE TRADEMARK DOMINANCE THAT HAD accompanied virtually all of Chesapeake right-hander Joe Seidler’s starts this season was not present Thursday against Southern. The senior hurler labored through four innings, allowing three earned runs on four hits and two walks.

But Seidler is no one-dimensional player. The Cougars’ leadoff hitter was 1-for-3 with an RBI, underscoring his importance to a Chesapeake team aching to avenge its only loss of the season Wednesday against Severna Park.

“He’s certainly the leader of our program, on the field and off,” Coach Ken King said.

Seidler, who is uncommitted but has fielded interest from UMBC, among others, has guided a young pitching corps that includes two sophomores. With an 88-mile-per-hour-fastball against a curveball and a swing-and-miss changeup, Seidler has compiled a 2.08 ERA over 30.1 innings of work.

He’s been just as dominant at the plate, hitting .370 with a team-high three homers. Seidler won’t be on the mound against Severna Park, but he’ll be sure to make his presence felt with the lumber.

» SOME NEW ARMS HAVE ENTERED the top five this week in pitching strikeout leaders. Take a look.


» LOUDOUN VALLEY CONTINUES TO SURPRISE with only a few games left in the regular season. Before falling to Broad Run on Saturday, the Vikings won eight games in a row, including a 5-4 win against streaking Riverside.

“These guys don’t know who’s good and who’s not good,” Coach Wayne Todd said after the win. “They don’t get rattled. They can brush stuff off.”

Todd is trying to key on his team’s youth and inexperience. The Vikings (12-3) graduated 12 seniors off a 16-win team last season. This year, the team only has four. Todd starts four sophomores. He brought another player, sophomore Reese Goodlin, up from the junior varsity team two weeks ago for another clutch bat in pinch-hit situations, a spot more routinely suited for a seasoned veteran.

» MARRIOTTS RIDGE COULD POINT TO any number of reasons if it falters down the stretch, but its grueling schedule is perhaps the most likely target. There’s the new pitch count rule, sure, which almost paved the way for a big Mt. Hebron comeback on Saturday after Coach Paul Eckert was forced to remove Dylan Agnos in the sixth inning of an eventual 8-6 win.

But the schedule calls for the Mustangs to play five games in a six-day stretch — four of which are on the road — and features two regular season games against River Hill.

Marriotts Ridge (12-3) is not in the business of making excuses, however. After a 9-0 season-opening loss to River Hill, the Mustangs have established themselves as a power in Howard County. The reason for their success is simple, according to Eckert.

“If you throw the ball well and catch the ball well, you’re going to win games,” he said.

» KEEP AN EYE ON THESE arms. Here are the region’s leaders in innings pitched with just a few games left before the postseason.


THE POST TOP 10:

1. Riverdale Baptist (22-1) Last week: 1

The Crusaders swept St. Albans in a double-header on Saturday, 2-0 and 6-5.

2. Madison (17-1) LW: 3

The Warhawks’ win streak is at 17 games after a 13-0 win over South Lakes on Friday.

3. Spalding (18-4) LW: 2

The Cavaliers defeated John Carroll 10-0 on Thursday.

4. Patriot (12-2) LW: 7

The Pioneers have won six games in a row, the region’s third-longest active win streak.

5. Severna Park (13-2) LW: 5

The Falcons took a five-run lead into the ninth against Glen Burnie on Friday, and despite seeing it whittle down to three runs, captured the 9-6 win, their third in a row.

6. Chesapeake (13-1) LW: 6

With their winning streak now at nine games, the Cougars enter Wednesday’s home matchup against Severna Park eager to avenge their only loss of the season.

7. St. John’s (17-6) LW: 4

The Cadets staved off Gonzaga on Saturday after back-to-back losses to DeMatha and Paul VI earlier in the week.

8. Northwest (10-2) LW: 10

The Jaguars picked up their second consecutive shutout victory last Wednesday in the form of a 12-0 win over Blake. 

9. Sherwood (12-3) LW: 8

After Connor Brady hurled a seven-inning shutout to lead the Warriors past Bethesda-Chevy Chase on Thursday, Damascus put a halt to their 11-game winning streak the next day.

10. Reservoir (14-2) LW: NR

The Gators came from behind against Centennial and picked up the 4-1 win on Friday a day after a 5-1 victory over Howard.

Dropped out: River Hill (11-3)

On the bubble: DeMatha, C.H. Flowers, Damascus

INSIDE BASEBALL

» Conference standings — The Washington Post

» Stat leaders (a lot of Riverdale Baptist) — The Washington Post

» ‘We do enough to win and then we hold on:’ Loudoun Valley snaps Riverside’s win streak — The Washington Post

» Weird story: Fired Arizona high school baseball coach blames ‘millennials’ for dismissal — KSAZ Fox 10 Phoenix

» What does an alligator look like in a tuxedo? Well, like this: