No. 8 Flint Hill boasts an interesting combination: One of the most promising young teams in the Washington area and one of the most seasoned coaching staffs.
The Huskies (10-2), who usually bat five sophomores and four juniors, are coached by Northern Region veterans Tom Verbanic (Fairfax baseball and football, Westfield football), Ron Tugwell (West Springfield) and Dan Griel (Lake Braddock), the latter of whom joined Verbanic and Tugwell partway though last season.
To borrow a major league line making the rounds in recent years, it’s not a trio that carries a bucket list instead of a lineup card to the plate before each game. But they are brand names in Northern Virginia high school athletics and are one reason why more baseball families are taking a long look at the Oakton private school when deciding on where to send their gloved students. Hence the talented young lineup.
“In baseball, having names like Griel and Tugwell, there’s a lot more interest right away,” Verbanic said. “We’re happy about that. We’re not shy about it. I think the kids that are here and their parents feel like they’re getting coached by some very good people.
“We’re probably the oldest staff in the world,” Verbanic added with a laugh. “Those guys can’t throw, so I end up throwing a lot. We competed against each other for quite a few years, and now being on the same staff, it’s a lot of fun.”
Flint Hill and Maret, the top two teams in the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference, played seven scoreless innings Tuesday before the Huskies erupted for six runs in the eighth, keyed by a three-run double from sophomore Christian Tailor.
Junior Tommy Doyle, a Virginia recruit, has an 18-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and pitched he complete-game 6-2 win against Maret.
Flint Hill junior Reid Frazier has three saves and is batting over .400 with three homers. Junior Josh Crummer has three homers and leads the team in RBI. Leadoff man Tailor has an on-base percentage of about .580.
Flint Hill’s losses have been in the season opener to No. 7 Paul VI Catholic and to Richmond private school Benedictine. The Huskies are 2-0 against the Northern Region and have upcoming games against Robinson and WCAC school Ireton.
“The kids are very excited, and I think they believe that if they adhere to what we do and what our philosophy is that we’re going to be successful,” said Verbanic, whose team will travel to Hagerstown, Md., on Wednesday for a game against St. James. “Having young kids is really good because they actually listen to you sometimes.”
In the three seasons before Brian Rau took over as coach at Oakland Mills in 2012, the Scorpions were 6-54. But the former Spotsylvania and High Point coach had no doubt that he was inheriting a playoff contender.
“On the first day, I knew I was getting a great group of guys,” said Rau, whose team finished 11-10 last season. “Ever since then and getting some wins under our belt last year, you can see their confidence growing. This is an outstanding group of players.”
Leading the Scorpions’ 8-0 start is a trio of strong senior pitchers in Kyle Madden-Stricker, Evan Russell and Joe Zayatz. The starting rotation has helped Oakland Mills record a team ERA of 1.19, with Madden-Stricker posting a 0.82 ERA in four games.
“All three of us are good about hitting the strike zone, so if we settle down and throw strikes, we can rely on our defense to make the great plays that they do,” Madden-Stricker said. “And when our bats come around, it’s just an all-around good formula.”
Behind this high-caliber pitching and defense, the Scorpions have held opponents to 10 runs, decreasing the team’s necessity for huge offensive outputs — at least for now.
“We’re not a hitting machine, but with that kind of pitching, if we score three or four runs per game, we’re giving ourselves a good chance,” Rau said. “Of course, we’re going to have to start hitting more in the future, and that’s what I keep preaching to our guys, that we can’t just rely on pitching. So that’s what we’re looking to improve.”
The balance in the Virginia AAA Concorde District is such that all six teams have shown up in the weekly Northern Region top 10 coaches’ poll at some point already this season.
So it should come as little surprise that on Tuesday night when the teams played their district openers, two of the three were one-run games.
Centreville overcame spotty defense to pull out a 10-9 win over Robinson. The Rams, facing sophomore reliever Daniel Woodruff, loaded the bases in the top of the seventh on an error, single, sacrifice bunt and intentional walk, but Centreville got a forceout at home from junior third baseman Scott Walter to sophomore catcher Jake Behne and to seal the victory Woodruff notched a strikeout of a batter who had three hits.
Senior Carson Bach threw the first six innings and fanned seven batters. The Wildcats (6-2, 1-0) struck out only twice. Junior Matt Sedlock had two hits, including a two-run homer in the second, and senior Daniel Drangstveit and senior Matt Whalen also had two hits each.
“There are no walkovers in the Concorde, especially in baseball,” said first-year Centreville coach Scott Findley, the Wildcats’ junior varsity coach last year. “We’re not a real experienced team, so these little bouts of adversity early are really going to pay off come May.”
Riverdale Baptist sustained its first loss, at a tournament in Tennessee. . . . Madison has won 10 straight since a season-opening loss to Fairfax, including an 11-3 win over its Vienna rival, No. 9 Oakton. . . . South River has dropped two straight following a 6-0 start. . . . Flint Hill enters the rankings after a 6-2 win at Maret. . . . Georgetown Prep is aiming for a third straight regular season IAC crown. The Little Hoyas won their league opener Tuesday against Bullis.
1. Riverdale Baptist (14-1) LW: 1
2. Madison (10-1) LW: 2
3. Lake Braddock (8-2) LW: 4
4. DeMatha (11-3) LW: 5
5. St. John’s (9-4) LW: 7
6. South River (6-2) LW: 3
7. Paul VI Catholic (10-4) LW: 6
8. Flint Hill (10-2) LW: NR
9. Oakton (8-1) LW: 8
10. Georgetown Prep (10-6) LW: 10
Dropped out: No. 9 Arundel (3-2)
Records through Tuesday