June 27 - While Centreville’s ability to score runs varied from game to game, the Wildcats consistently excelled at preventing opposing teams from scoring en route to a program-record 18 victories and their first state tournament appearance since 2003.
A big reason for that was the play of junior third baseman Gavin Collins and senior second baseman Connor Nguyen, two members of the magazine’s Leather Nine recognizing some of the area’s top defensive players.
Collins’ athleticism makes him perhaps Northern Virginia’s best at the hot corner, boasting an ability to range laterally and take away opposing teams’ short game. Across the infield, Nguyen teamed with shortstop Derek Haynie to spin several double plays - including four in one game against Oakton - and made several plays in big moments.
One of those plays came in the opening round of the Region 6D Tournament against Stonewall Jackson. Nguyen ranged deep in the hole behind the second base bag, dove to trap the ball and flipped it with his glove to Haynie, who spun a game-ending double play. And none was bigger than his play in the sixth inning of the region semifinals at Patriot, when Nguyen’s quick turn beat speedy Pioneers lead off man Brian Wilson to complete a 6-4-3 double play. That stranded the bases loaded and enabled the Wildcats to escape with a state-tournament clinching 2-0 victory.
Collins and Nguyen are joined on the Leather Nine by Battlefield senior shortstop Zach Agnos and first baseman Carter Cunningham, South County junior first baseman Tyler Gauthier, Madison senior first baseman Josh Gjormand, McLean’s middle info combination of Tio Graybill and Jackson Kantor, Woodbridge sophomore second baseman Eric Hiett, and Briar Woods junior center fielder Jacob Weaver.
The magazine’s Auxiliary Nines are part of our NOVA Nine Team series honoring the top players from Northern Virginia. The series is sponsored by The St. James in Springfield.
Here’s a look at this year’s selections:
Zach Agnos, Senior, Battlefield - A four-year starter in the middle infield for the Bobcats who developed into perhaps the area’s best all-around shortstop - he committed just one error and had a .981 fielding percentage - and was a two-time NOVA Nine Team selection. Will play at East Carolina University.
Gavin Collins, Junior, Centreville - Possibly the area’s best defender at the hot corner, he committed just two errors and had a .967 fielding percentage while shutting down the short game for opposing teams en route to second-team All-Region 6D honors. “He was outstanding all year. Plays the slow roller like a pro and he has a cannon,” said Wildcats coach Scott Rowland.
Carter Cunningham, Senior, Battlefield - Made a seamless switch from the outfield to first base, not making an error in 107 chances over 23 games en route to second-team Class 6 all-state honors. Will play at Gardner Webb University. “Carter had not had a lot of experience over there, but never complained and did what he had to do to help the team. I feel like he could play both positions at the next level,” said Battlefield coach Jay Burkhart.
Tyler Gauthier, Junior, South County - The first baseman had a team-best .957 fielding percentage and made a number of plays on errant throws en route to a second-team All-Patriot District selection. “His scooping skills at first base saved countless errors from a young team,” said Stallions coach Scott Nelson.
Josh Gjormand, Senior, Madison - A two-time All-Region 6D selection, the first baseman made up for any lack in size with perhaps Northern Virginia’s smoothest glove at his position. He didn’t make an error in 126 chances. Will play at the University of Lynchburg. “He’s small for a first baseman, but he is outstanding. He killed us on a couple between hops where he somehow picked it,” said Centreville coach Scott Rowland.
Tio Graybill and Jackson Kantor, McLean - The duo formed one of the area’s top middle infields, combining on nine double plays and committing just eight errors in 145 chances (.945 fielding percentage) as the Highlanders won the Liberty District championship. Kantor earned the district’s Player of the Year honor. “We felt we have two of the best shortstops in the region. Just so happens that we were lucky enough to play one of them at second base,” said McLean coach John Dowling.
Eric Hiett, Sophomore, Woodbridge - A two-year starter who earned a second-team All-Cardinal District nod after an errorless campaign at second base. Had 18 assists among his 84 total chances as the Vikings qualified for the Region 6C Tournament. “Eric carries an all-business air about him. Has incredible range and quick hands on the exchange … make hard plays look easy because of his approach to the ball. As a sophomore, he played like an upperclassman,” said Woodbridge coach Jim Hoffman.
Connor Nguyen, Senior, Centreville - Made several diving plays to rob opposing batters of hits and turned a number of double plays in key moments as the Wildcats qualified for their first state tournament in 16 years. Committed just one error in 78 chances, good for a .987 fielding percentage. “He had as good a year as any second baseman that I’ve ever had,” said Wildcats coach Scott Rowland.
Jacob Weaver, Junior, Briar Woods - The toolsy outfielder made just one error and threw out three base runners while making 47 putouts and earned second-team Class 5 all-state honors after helping the Falcons win the Potomac District championship. “One of the best defensive outfielders I’ve been around, and that includes [Mike] Ludowig. Mike had a better arm, but Weaver is just as fast, covers just as much ground, and can read anything. Made multiple diving catches that saved numerous runs in big moments,” said Briar Woods coach Rob Sikora.
Photo of Centreville’s Gavin Collins, left, and Connor Nguyen, right, by Fred Ingam