Many teams this season have struggled to score runs as they adapt to new bats with less pop, so moving runners up a base via steal, sacrifice or some other means has been paramount to goosing offensive production.
And that’s where Freedom-South Riding has enjoyed a marked advantage. The Eagles have stolen about 100 bases while opponents have attempted only 23 thefts, a differential that has helped yield a five-game winning streak and Virginia AAA Cedar Run District regular-season title.
Junior Zach Newell leads Freedom with 18 steals and several teammates have about 10 each headed into their district semifinal at home at 6 p.m. Friday against Broad Run. By winning the regular season title, Freedom has secured a first-round bye in the Northwest Region tournament.
Freedom (14-6) has five players who run the 60-yard dash in sub-seven seconds, but the success on the basepaths goes beyond that. Coach Jason Treon has seen his team “grow intellectually on the bases” as they have gained experience.
“It's not just stealing bases, but guys going from first to third, just playing the game the right way,” Treon said. “It’s more fun as a kid to play that way and not station to station, but play smart while doing it. Fast, but under control.
“There are a lot of other teams out there the same nature. My biggest concern is I want to control their running game first and foremost.”
Freedom senior Matt Malacane is batting around .500. Senior Andrew Lamont is 7-2 with eight complete games in eight starts, including two that went extra innings. He has walked only five batters in 65 innings. Junior Ryan Adams is 4-1.
Freedom trailed in its past four wins in the Cedar Run, one of the more interesting districts in Northern Virginia. Broad Run was a Virginia AA quarterfinalist last year. Freedom, which like Broad Run made the jump to the Cedar Run from the Virginia AA Dulles District, advanced to the second round of the Region II tournament last year.
First-year Patriot, with no seniors, is 14-6. Defending district champion Osbourn won five in a row late in the season to secure second-place in the district. Defending state semifinalist Battlefield stumbled to a 9-12 record and got bounced by Patriot in the district quarterfinals Wednesday. Stonewall Jackson finished 8-14 but beat Virginia AAA Commonwealth District regular season champion Colonial Forge twice.
In addition to learning a new district, Freedom split two games with both Dulles District regular season champion Potomac Falls and Virginia AA Evergreen District regular season champion Kettle Run, and lost to Virginia AAA Liberty District regular season champion Stone Bridge.
Freedom, which played four games in five days to open the season, now will play two games at the most between the May 11 regular season finale and the second round of regionals May 28.
The Broad Run-Freedom district semifinal winner will play the Patriot-Osbourn winner in the Cedar Run championship at 7 p.m. Monday at Patriot.