Lake Braddock senior right-hander Michael Church is in his third year as a key contributor for the winningest Northern Virginia baseball program in recent years. He is bound for Division I James Madison University. Last season he was first-team all-Patriot District, second team all-Northern Region and honorable mention All-Met.
Yet in some circles, at times even in his own school hallways, Church’s profile seems about as high as a fastball at the knees. At least one faculty member asked Coach Jody Rutherford before the season who his other top pitcher would be besides junior Thomas Rogers, a Georgia commit.
“I guess you could say I’m a little under the radar,” Church said, “but it doesn’t really matter to me.”
Church’s efforts could not have gone unappreciated Tuesday night, when he tossed a two-hitter in a five-inning, 11-1 home victory over West Springfield in a game between unbeaten AAA Patriot District teams. The one run Church allowed was unearned.
“A lot of people when they ask me about who’s our top pitcher, I’ll tell them it’s Michael Church,” said Garett Driscoll, the Bruins’ junior catcher. “They automatically think it’s Rogers because he’s a big name, and he’s also a very good pitcher.
“[Church is] not like one of those kids that would run out and just be like cocky or showy. He’s just kind of quiet, kind of humble and he’ll just come out and do his best every time he’s on the mound.”
West Springfield took a 1-0 lead off Church in the top of the first when junior Taylor Boyd singled, stole two bases and scored on an errant throw to third on the second theft. After that, Church gave up only one more hit and a walk. He struck out six.
“At the high school level, when you can locate your fastball in and out and mix in breaking balls and a good change-up to left-handed hitters, you’re going to be tough to beat,” said Jason Olms, West Springfield’s first-year coach. “He might not have the velocity of some other guys or the breaking ball of some other guys, but he’s their horse. He’s their guy. I thought we had a good approach at the plate. He just beat us.”
A three-run homer by senior Dylan O’Connor highlighted a five-run second inning for Lake Braddock (6-0, 3-0). A throwing error by West Springfield (4-1, 2-1) with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the fourth opened a six-run inning for the Bruins, who at one point drew three consecutive walks. Two Bruins raced home on an errant pickoff throw.
Church walked the second batter in the top of the fifth but preserved the mercy rule victory over the nearby rival.
“He’s quietly confident, I guess you could say,” Rutherford said. “He doesn’t want anybody else to have the ball but him. He has confidence in all his pitches. Against whoever he’s facing, he feels like he’s going to get the job done.”