THE PAYOFF: There are four D.C. area teams still alive in the Virginia state playoffs, the only tournament that runs this late into the year. They’ll all play in state semifinals on Friday and the winners will advance to state championship games on Saturday. We’re going to give you some extended cliff notes on each team, so you can impress your friends or fellow spectators this weekend.
» OAKTON, it seems, will never die in these playoffs. The Cougars gave up back-to-back home runs to rival Madison in the 6A North semifinal game. They came back with a walk-off sacrifice fly.
In the championship game, they trailed Patriot by a run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Then Eric Lingebach smacked a game-tying double. In the ninth inning, Patriot took another lead on a solo home run. Lingebach launched a two-run home run for the win.
“That’s how we’ve played all year,” senior pitcher Toma Shigaki-Than said.
Put that in your notes for Oakton. This is a team that doesn’t mind playing without the lead. In fact, they talk about it pretty often. Coach Justin Janis tells his team, “Get to the seventh inning within a run,” he told the Post after both the Madison and Oakton wins.
That’s a lot of confidence to have in your offense. At least late in the year, it hasn’t been misplaced. The Cougars (19-7) take seven innings, sometimes longer, to make adjustments to their game. Lingebach said after his two-run homer he’d been experimenting his last two at-bats with planting his front foot earlier.
That kind of stuff works if an opponent is too consistent, or too anxious. Lingebach only saw one off-speed pitch in his five plate appearances. The alternative is to throw him a ton of curveballs, but those are harder to control and less likely to be strikes.
The key against the Cougars: healthy variance, both on offense and defense. Throw multiple pitches, be selectively aggressive on the base paths and then trust your ballclub. Don’t let Oakton’s patience make you nervous.
Oakton plays Western Branch at 2 p.m., Friday at Robinson Secondary School in Burke.
Oh, and about that walk-off:
» PATRIOT probably drew a tougher matchup with Oakton because of that patience. The Pioneers are a fundamentally sound but very aggressive team.
Not many high school teams will shift their defense all the way around against lefty hitters. Not many teams will coordinate their outfield based on pitch calling. Patriot does both.
Coach Josh Steinberg can make those calls with confidence because of his pitching staff.
Senior right-hander James Price, the ace of the staff, will most likely start the semifinal game against Frank Cox on Friday at 10 a.m. Riley Eikhoff threw in relief against Oakton but exited with an injury. Andrew Casey has also been a reliable starter for the Pioneers (21-3).
Patriot’s staff throws strikes and controls the count. When that happens, it can force hitters into swinging at pitches that roll into the heart of the defense. The Pioneers turned a triple play against Oakton because Steinberg had his first baseman charge so hard on a bunt, he fielded the ball at waist level a few feet in front of home plate.
The key against Patriot: take some pitches and control the count. Let that aggressiveness twist the Pioneers into tough situations.
» It’s a fair question to ask: Where exactly did BRIAR WOODS come from?
The Falcons lost by six runs apiece to Broad Run and Tuscarora to end the regular season, then strung together five straight wins to take the Conference 14 tournament and the 5A North region crown.
Some of that is thanks to Wilson Ayers, the ace of the pitching staff who has gotten through the year with a 5-0 record and a 0.64 ERA.
“We’ve given him the ball pretty much in every major situation this year, and he’s taken the team where it needs to go,” Coach Jason Miller said after the Falcons defeated Potomac (Va.) in the 5A North region semifinal.
Sean Clark, Michael Ludowig and Jack Jaekle have also provided valuable innings.
The keys against Briar Woods: avoid the big inning, and get into the bullpen. Teams this time of year are good enough to survive being nickeled and dimed for a run every couple innings. Briar Woods can blow games open in a hurry, though, with a couple of extra base hits. Opponents might also take a few pitches at the plate. Stretch out the length of the game and make Miller go to his bullpen and away from Ayers.
Briar Woods will face Menchville on Friday at 2 p.m., at Westfield High School in Chantilly.
» It’s RIVERSIDE’S second year with a varsity baseball team. After a season like this, the Rams might prove to be pretty good for a long time.
Sophomore shortstop Carson Swank is one of the best in the state. He was 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI in the 3A East region championship against Spotslyvania. The middle of Riverside’s batting order, spots three through seven, were 8 for 15 with seven RBI.
Between David Setien, Trey Campbell and Robbie Ferreira, the Rams (20-3) have no trouble on the mound. Sophomore Nick Connolly has also pitched in some postseason innings. With that depth, they’re the clear favorites in the 3A state tournament. They’ll face Brookville on Friday at 2 p.m. in Salem for the state semifinal.
The key against Riverside: take care of the bottom of the order. Sajon Belser is not the typical No. 9 hitter. He is a rally starter. He can hit for power in both gaps. On the bases, he’s speedy enough to get inside a pitcher’s head. Don’t think he’s overpowered by fastballs. Take him seriously, and keep him off the bases.
The Post Top 10
1. Riverdale Baptist (30-1) Last week: 1
Ended the season on a 15-game winning streak that included the National Association of Christian Athletes championship.
2. St. John’s (24-7) LW: 4
Completed its season as champion of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
3. Northwest (19-4) LW: 5
Completed its season by defeating Howard to win the Maryland 4A championship.
4. DeMatha (23-10) LW: 7
The WCAC runner up defeated Spalding in the title game of the Maryland private school tournament of champions.
5. Oakton (19-7) LW: NR
Will play Western Branch on Friday in the Virginia 6A semifinal.
6. Patriot (20-2) LW: 5
Will play Cox on Friday in the Virginia 6A semifinal.
7. Spalding (21-8) LW: 8
The Cavaliers lost in the semifinal of the Maryland Independent Athletic Association to Baltimore’s Calvert Hall and fell to DeMatha in the Maryland private school tournament of champions final.
8. Severna Park (23-3) LW: 8
The Falcons fell to Howard in the Maryland 4A state semifinal.
9. Poolesville (18-3) LW: 6
Completed its season by defeating Chesapeake to win the Maryland 3A championship.
10. Madison (20-2) LW: 2
Lost to Oakton in the semifinal of the Virginia 6A North region tournament.
Dropped out: Chesapeake
On the bubble: Riverside, Briar Woods, Sherwood
» A rare birth defect gave also gave him a gift: A nearly impossible to hit curveball. — The Washington Post
» The biggest surprise in Maryland baseball this year: Poolesville. — The Washington Post