It started with Stone Bridge sophomore John Callahan pulling the first pitch he saw to left. The Bulldogs wanted to be as aggressive as possible in Wednesday’s Virginia 5A North region semifinal against Marshall, and they jumped on any pitch in their wheelhouse regardless of the count.
Top-ranked Stone Bridge smacked six first pitches for base hits en route to a 12-5 victory over the Statesmen in Falls Church. All but one Bulldog batter registered a hit, and they all reached base safely with an unwavering approach at the plate.
Stone Bridge will host Freedom-South Riding — which defeated Halifax, 7-2, in the other semifinal — in Friday’s Virginia 5A North regional final.
“Most of the time they throw first pitch fastballs, so I like to swing then,” Callahan said of Marshall’s pitching staff. “It kind of gets the tempo going in the dugout, and gets the energy going.”
The Bulldogs (22-1) posted 15 hits and were just one run shy of tying their single game season-high. Stone Bridge got major production from the bottom of the order as the No. 5 through No. 9 hitters combined to go 9 for 18 with six RBI and two walks. In the No. 8 hole, junior second baseman Eric Johnson went 3 for 4 with three doubles and an RBI.
“I was just looking for fastballs, and the team was behind me in the dugout cheering me on,” Johnson said. “Those doubles weren’t the prettiest, but I was happy to knock in a run for us.”
Sophomore Dave Mocabee allowed five runs on nine hits in the complete game win. With a seemingly effortless delivery, he pounded the zone with fastballs and sliders to strike out five batters.
The underclassmen pitchers have been called upon to shoulder the load with ace JB Bukauskas shut down due to shoulder inflammation. Bulldogs Coach Sam Plank has had to call up several players from junior varsity in Bukauskas’s absence.
Stone Bridge quickly fell behind, 1-0, on a Conor Boyle RBI single in the top of first but tied the game on Johnson’s run-scoring double in the bottom of the second.
In the fifth, the Bulldogs plated three runs to push the lead to 7-1. Marshall (15-7) quickly rallied with three runs in the bottom of the inning to trim the deficit to three runs.
Stone Bridge pounded two Statesmen pitchers for five runs in the sixth to put the game out of reach. The win places the 14-year-old school in its first regional final after falling in regional semifinals in 2006 and 2011.
“I told them before the game, ‘We’ve prepared you for this moment and you’ve prepared yourself,’ ” Plank said. “You’ve earned the right to dogpile on this field.”
Friday will be Stone Bridge’s fourth meeting with Freedom this season, and the Bulldogs have won all three matchups — most recently the Conference 14 title game.