The Cadets began WCAC play 8-0 but closed conference play 4-3, and it was a toss-up as to which club would show up Sunday. St. John’s put the regular season in the past, handling the Cardinals, 7-3, in the quarterfinals before sweeping two games against Gonzaga at Nats Academy in Southeast Washington.
With those wins, the Cadets punched their ticket to their first WCAC final series since winning it in 2011.
“We’re really excited,” St. John’s Coach Mark Gibbs said. “The kids are excited to play and we’re excited to go back. Whoever we see it will be a tough and good series.”
The fourth-ranked Cadets survived the WCAC regular season, where the No. 2 to No. 7 teams were separated by just three games.
“This is the most balanced I’ve seen it,” Gibbs said. “The parity is starting to come around in the league. Obviously it’s not 2008 where it’s three or four draft picks, but it’s getting balanced.”
A key in St. John’s ability to weather the storm has been junior shortstop and right-handed pitcher AJ Lee. After a sophomore campaign in which he hit .370, he is a lot more confident at the plate this season with a .475 batting average and 16 RBI.
He also has been exemplary on the mound (2-2, 1.29 ERA, 38 innings pitched) with shutouts over DeMatha and O’Connell.
“He really progressed in terms of command and throwing strikes,” Gibbs said. “He put on 20 pounds since the end of last season and was very serious this summer and he’s been ready to go.”
Before Game 1 of the semifinals was rained out against Gonzaga, the Maryland commit pitched eight shutout innings. The game resumed Tuesday afternoon in Northwest, where senior outfielder Brodie Leftridge (Tennesee signee) knocked in an RBI double for the walk-off 1-0 win. The Cadets then won, 9-4, in Game 2 later in the day.
St. John’s now awaits the winner of the deciding game in the O’Connell and Good Counsel series at O’Connell on Wednesday. The Cadets will have a light practice Wednesday before the first pitch of the WCAC finals Friday at 7 p.m. at the University of Maryland’s Shipley Field.
A little less than two months ago, the No. 9 Flint Hill baseball team was in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a national tournament featuring 12 teams from seven states. The Huskies knew they had the talent to keep up with some of the nation’s elite, but they lost each of their four games at the tournament and quickly fell to 1-6 on the season.
It would have been easy to view such a trip as a loss, a frustrating waste of spring break, but Coach Tom Verbanic wouldn’t allow it. As the team returned home, the longtime football coach had a simple message.
“We’ll know if it was a good trip or not based on how we do when we get back,” he told the team.
Since hearing those words, Flint Hill has won 16 consecutive games, the longest winning streak in the area. The Huskies have had eight shutouts and a handful of no-hitters, a thrilling 1-0 win over Benedictine, a private school in Richmond, and nine straight victories in the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference.
“So now,” Verbanic said, “I think it was a pretty good trip.”
Flint Hill (17-6) has steadily improved at the plate while relying on its pitching staff, which features one of the best one-two punches in the area.
Tommy Doyle is a 6-foot-6, 220-pound flamethrower who has been the ace of the team’ s pitching staff for the better part of three years. He passed up offers from Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, ultimately settling on Virginia.
Reid Frazier, meanwhile, has proven to be equally effective in a different way. A slim 6-footer who throws with a submarine style, the Penn State commit creates extreme movement on his pitches to induce swings-and-misses or weak contact.
“We pitch pretty well,” Vebanic said. “We kind of hang our hats on our pitching and defense.”
Those have been two of the keys to Flint Hill’s streak, which could stretch to 17 on Thursday with a win over Georgetown Day.
And those keys will be as vital as ever next week, when the Huskies will simultaneously compete in the MAC and VISAA state tournaments. They could play as many as six games in seven days — a schedule reminiscient of their time in Scottsdale.
“I think we found out in Arizona that we weren’t nearly as good as we thought we were,” Verbanic said. “We lost our games in the tournament there, and then we kind of had to regroup and refocus and understand that we have to play hard every day.”
Top-ranked Stone Bridge ran its winning streak to 13 games with a 10-0 shutout of Tuscarora on Tuesday. . . . Madison has outscored opponents 39-4 in its current five-game winning streak. . . . Poolesville edged Gaithersburg, 2-1, on Monday to cap an unbeaten Montgomery County slate. Robbie Metz led the way with 11 strikeouts. . . . George Mason commit Brady Acker homered as Atholton defended its Howard County crown with an 8-4 victory over Mount Hebron on Tuesday.
1. Stone Bridge (14-1) LW: 1
2. Madison (14-2) LW: 2
3. Poolesville (17-1) LW: 3
4. St. John’s (19-6) LW: 4
6. Battlefield (11-1) LW: 6
7. Atholton (18-1) LW: 8
8. La Plata (16-3) LW: 7
9. Flint Hill (17-6) LW: 10
10. Spalding (16-4) LW: NR
Dropped out: Gaithersburg (17-2) LW: 9
Records through Tuesday. Rankings will be suspended during the playoffs. Final rankings will be published on allmetsports.com on June 18.