Stone Bridge senior catcher Cam Bowen did not play baseball last season so he could concentrate on wrestling. After driving in the decisive run in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday night against Madison in a 3-2 win, he brought up yet another sport to describe his current athletic situation.
“I’m just starting to see the ball,” said Bowen, whom No. 10 Stone Bridge sometimes replaces in the batting order with a designated hitter because of his struggles at the plate. “It looks like a giant basketball coming at me right now.”
Consider his game-winner Friday a slam dunk. Bowen, batting last in the order, deposited a first-pitch curveball on the outside part of the plate into center field to score junior Marcus Schreiber, who had doubled with one out in the seventh.
“I was looking for a fastball, but I wasn’t thinking,” said Bowen, a team captain who had two hits Tuesday night in a win over McLean. “I just reacted. When I first saw the pitch, I was like, no, no, why am I swinging?”
Stone Bridge (12-4, 9-1 and in first place in the Virginia AAA Liberty District) cruised into the seventh inning with a 2-0 lead. But Madison senior Jonny Graham led off the seventh with a double — he had two of the Warhawks’ three hits — and then Stone Bridge senior right-hander Ty Mocabee, who had not walked a batter, threw eight consecutive balls to load the bases.
A throwing error on a grounder scored two runs to tie the game and put runners on second and third with no outs. Mocabee fanned three consecutive pinch hitters to preserve the tie headed into the bottom of the seventh.
The George Mason University commit finished with 11 strikeouts in his team’s fourth consecutive win over the Warhawks.
“That game could have easily been 4-2 [Madison],” said Stone Bridge Coach Sam Plank, whose team has won between 16 and 20 games annually since joining the Northern Region in 2006. “But he bowed his neck and got us out of it and gave us a chance. Until that last inning, that’s one of the best games I’ve seen him throw. He was just dominant.”
If Bowen had not come through with the winning hit, there was a good chance that the next batter, senior shortstop Josh Kuzbel, would have. Since moving to the leadoff spot six games ago, Kuzbel has reached base 20 times in 23 plate appearances and is perhaps the main offensive reason his team has outscored its Liberty District competition 59-6.
Kuzbel, a West Virginia commit, tripled to lead off the first Friday night and scored the Bulldogs’ first run; four of his team’s eight hits went for extra bases.
A .400 hitter last season, Kuzbel was not seeing many pitches to hit batting third in the order this spring. Before a game at South Lakes, Plank penciled him into the lineup at the leadoff spot. Kuzbel did a grateful double-take at the posted lineup card just to make sure.
“I loved it,” said Kuzbel, who hit leadoff for his summer team. “My approach just changed. I started seeing a lot more pitches. I feel a lot more comfortable.”
“We had no idea if J.B. was going to be on varsity or not at the beginning of the year,” Kuzbel said. “He’s going to be exciting to watch.”
Two-time defending district champion Madison (10-5, 5-5) committed four errors behind junior right-hander Dan Powers, two of which came on an errant pickoff throw that led to the Bullodogs’ second run.
The Warhawks are 0-4 against Stone Bridge, McLean and Langley, the top three teams in the Liberty. Those four losses have come by a collective 8-3 score.
Madison hosts Vienna rival Oakton at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re just not playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Warhawks Coach Mark Gjormand said. “We’re pressing a little bit. They want to be great. They’ve been winners; they’ve been champions. We’re going to get it figured out.”