As he stood outside the third-base dugout at Robinson and surveyed the scene Saturday night, Ryan wore a workmanlike expression, seemingly unimpressed with the job he had done. Moments earlier, he had knocked in the winning run in Chantilly’s 3-2 win over Cosby in the Virginia 6A semifinals, helped the Chargers reach their first state championship game and been smothered by teammates at first base. How did he feel?
“I’m hurting,” Ryan deadpanned. “From the dogpile.”
With that pain, however, came the realization that in less than 24 hours, Ryan and the Chargers (18-7) would be playing in the state title game. Saturday evening, they’ll face Western Branch, which edged McLean, 5-4, in the first semifinal.
To get there, Chantilly leaned on clutch hits and the tireless right arm of Eason Recto. Recto, a Cornell commit, pitched a complete game and retired 13 consecutive batters in one stretch, keeping pace with Cosby starter Hunter Williams, who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 32nd round earlier this month.
Recto also overcame calf cramps in the top of the seventh, when the Titans (22-2) tied the game with three hits and an error. With a runner on second base and nobody out, Recto laid out in front of the mound to catch a popped-up bunt, jumped to his feet and spun around to double up the runner at second. He induced a routine grounder to get out of the inning.
“That kid is just unbelievable,” Coach Kevin Ford said. “He just battles so hard. He gives you everything.”
Recto then led off the bottom of the inning with a single, but he cramped up again while moving to second on a Cosby error and was pulled for a pinch runner. Instead of standing on third in position to score the winning run, he watched from the bench as Ryan stepped to the plate.
Ryan admitted he was “very nervous” as he entered the batter’s box, but then he glanced at the scoreboard and saw a lonely “1” in the outs column. He knew he just had to put a ball into the outfield, and though he made contact with the end of his bat, Ryan managed to do just that. The nerves evaporated, replaced by the weight of teammates piling on top of him in the infield grass.
“I almost broke my spine, so that hurts,” Ryan said, deadpan again. “I don’t know. It’s a great feeling now.”