Michael Ludowig took ball four high and outside. His right leg throbbed hip to toe as he tossed his bat to Briar Woods’s dugout and hobbled the long 90 feet to first base. Ludowig started cramping in the 11th inning of the Virginia 5A state championship game against Halifax. Now it was the 14th.
On the bench before his at-bat, his right calf had been fidgeting with a mind of its own. His hamstring had been bouncing like a guitar string. Both of his biceps ached.
And now here he was, on first base during a 4-4 tie, as teammate George Rosales hit a groundball to third base. With a man on and one out, a double play would have ended the Briar Woods scoring chance.
Ludowig shoved off from first base, his left leg cramping.
The Falcons and Comets played the equivalent of two high school baseball games under the Saturday heat at Robinson Secondary School in Burke. In the end, only four innings mattered in what eventually became a 5-4 state championship victory for Briar Woods.
The Falcons rallied for two runs in the first. Halifax hit back with a four-run fourth. Briar Woods tied it, 4-4, in the seventh.
Then the two teams hit an offensive dry spell that lasted the length of a feature film.
And then Ludowig, who pitched seven innings in relief, drew a walk in the bottom of the 14th.
“I told these guys, ‘We need one now,’” he said. “I don’t know if I could have gone another inning.”
On Rosales’ groundball, Ludowig’s burst for second was unexpectedly swift. It caught the Comets third baseman by surprise. He glanced up before fielding the ball to eye the play at second. Ludowig was nearly into his slide. By the time the third baseman looked back down, the ball had gotten away.
Rosales reached first. Ludowig reached second. Falcons Coach Jason Miller replaced him with pinch runner Jake Rayfield.
Ludowig limped off the field and flopped down in a heap on the bench, chugging water, stretching and bawling.
Sean Clark, 2 for 5 at the plate already, stepped to bat.
Senior Matt Lord shouted in the dugout: “We need energy! We need it right here!”
Clark took ball one outside, stepped out of the box, tapped his cleats and walked back in. The second pitch was a low fastball. He wanted it, and shot a sharp groundball into center field.
Miller, coaching third base, waved in Rayfield as the Halifax outfielder threw home.
“We were going to take that risk,” Clark said.
“The game had gone on long enough,” said Miller.
The throw came in on the third-base side of the plate.
The Falcon reserves, most in tears, hopped over the dugout fence.
The Comet catcher swiped a tag. It missed Rayfield.
Fourteen innings were over. The scoreboard finally moved.
Briar Woods 5, Halifax 4. The Falcons were state champions.