April 9 - When Matt Howat’s curveball is on, it is one of the toughest pitches to hit in Northern Virginia.
Last night in Vienna, Madison’s senior left-hander had his hook working as the No. 7 Warhawks (5-2 overall, 1-1 Concorde District) rolled to an 11-4 win at crosstown rival Oakton (2-6, 0-4).
Howat, who has signed to pitch at the College of William & Mary, struck out 10 over five innings while allowing four runs (two earned) on three hits and two walks. Second baseman Ryan Murphy was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI and shortstop Carson Hoffman and designated hitter Luke Erdmann each added two RBI to pace Madison, which broke a scoreless tie with a seven-run fourth.
“I thought he had great command. His fastball was alive,” Warhawks coach Mark ‘Pudge’ Gjormand said of his ace, who improved to 2-1 and outdueled the Cougars’ Villanova-bound lefty, Seth Richards. “He was excited, and we talked about the match-up beforehand.”
Added Oakton coach Justin Janis: “Howat’s just an outstanding pitcher, and he was good tonight. That breaking ball low-and-in was just nasty, and our guys definitely had trouble with that.”
Howat was particularly sharp in the early innings, retiring eight straight before first baseman Julian Heitman reached on a two-base error with two outs in the fourth. He’d recover, striking out Matt Ford and Nick Morgan to end the frame. In the fifth, after Allen Yager’s RBI double got Oakton on the board, Howat appeared to have worked out with his third strikeout of the frame, but Danny Rivas’ apparent foul tip into catcher Chris Polymeropoulos’ glove was called a ball.
The Cougars took advantage when Rivas eventually drew a walk, Davis Kelley doubled in a run and two more scored on a throwing error by Hoffman to cut the Warhawks’ advantage to 8-4. The extra workload ended Howat’s night after 82 pitches.
“I feel bad for Matt because we got a little sloppy, and if we get that foul-tip call - I thought he caught it - then he probably throws a [complete game] tonight,” Gjormand said. “But he was spectacular, and that’s what we expect from Matt.”
Madison padded its lead with an RBI single by Erdmann and a two-run double by Murphy in the top of the sixth. The Cougars loaded the bases in the seventh, but reliever Michael Schultz got Drew NeSmith swinging to end the game with his third strikeout of the frame.
“Our guys played to the end, and that’s all we can ask,” Janis said.
Notable: Howat has a 1.87 ERA with 24 strikeouts to four walks in 15 innings this spring. He’s gone five innings in each of his three starts … Richards took the loss after surrendering six runs on five hits and five walks in three innings. He is 1-2 with a 4.38 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 14 walks in 16 innings … Miguel Echazarreta, Madison’s promising left-handed swinging sophomore infielder, entered as a pinch hitter in the seventh and reached on an infield single. He was clocked at 4.21 seconds from home to first base on the play … Warhawks senior left fielder Ethan Lipp, a first-team All-Region 6D selection last year, was 1-for-2 with two walks. He has gone 4-for-7 with three walks, three doubles and four RBI over his last three games after going hitless in his first seven at-bats of the season … Madison has won three of four in the series since Oakton’s 3-2 win over the Warhawks in the 2017 region semifinals.
Quotable: “The depth in our lineup is really going to help us out a lot, and hopefully we’re going to have the pitching to get through all eight of those games.” - Madison’s Matt Howat, on the Warhawks’ upcoming stretch of eight games in 11 days.
Next: Madison has a quick turnaround, travel to play at Centreville tonight. Oakton is at West Springfield tomorrow night.
Photo of Madison’s Matt Howat by Albert Jacquez