As pleasing as Lee’s 5-4 eight-inning win over rival West Springfield was Monday in the first round of the Virginia AAA Patriot District tournament, what might have been more encouraging for the Lancers was their reaction to knocking off the Spartans after 13 consecutive losses in the series.
They congratulated senior pitcher Greg Zajic on his complete-game win and then lined up to shake hands. That indicated to second-year Lee Coach John Dowling that the players in what has been a struggling program might be expecting to win more than hoping to win. That falls in line with the team’s “#std” hash tag, for “Shock the District.”
“We’re a more competitive program than we have been, and we’re not a shock to anybody any more,” said Dowling, whose team’s six wins are its most since 2005, an uptick that he credits in part to new assistant coaches.
“We’re not shocking to anybody in our dugout. We know that when we do the things we’re capable of doing we can compete with anybody. Our expectation is not to just win one game in the district playoffs. Our expectation is to win every game.”
Four of Lee’s first six losses this season were by 10 or more runs. That has been the case with only one subsequent loss, and four setbacks during the latter part of the season have been by one or two runs.
With a victory Wednesday against T.C. Williams at Simpson Field in Alexandria, Lee (6-15) can earn its first berth into the 16-team Northern Region tournament since its 2004 state semifinal run.
Measured postgame reaction or not, beating West Springfield, a school 4.4 miles away and with many guys who grew up competing with and against Lee players on the same Little League and American Legion teams, was especially satisfying.
In winning the last 13 games in the series, West Springfield had outscored Lee, 134-25. The Lancers’ victory causes the Spartans (9-12), winner of three of the past four region titles, to miss out on a region berth for the first season since sometime prior to 2001.
Lee, the only baseball team in the Patriot without at least one player committed to a college, scored the winning run in the top of the eighth inning when senior Louis Lefevre, who went 3 for 4 out of the ninth spot in the order, singled off the glove of a diving infielder with two outs and trotted home on a stand-up triple from junior Jack Milewski.
In the bottom of the eighth, Zajic closed out the complete-game win with a strikeout after giving up a two-out double. On May 3 against West Springfield, the Spartans had knocked Zajic from the game in the second inning of their 15-3 win. This time in eight, Zajic gave up six hits, struck out nine, walked two and hit two.
“It was a nice little bit of redemption,” Dowling said.
The Lancers are stronger now than they were during most of the district schedule when senior pitcher Will Smith was hampered by tendinitis. Smith closed out a win over West Potomac on Thursday and he might start Wednesday against T.C.
The Lancers expect to face Titans senior ace Alec Grosser. Lee lost to T.C., 8-7, on Friday.