Liberty District Preview: Merritt, Highlanders Hope to Spoil Yorktown's Repeat Bid

March 10 - Ben Koomey’s game-winning home run to beat South Lakes and give Yorktown its first Liberty District championship in six years was one of the area’s top moments in 2018.

For the Patriots to repeat this spring, Koomey and his teammates will likely have to go through a rather large obstacle: a 6-foot-6, 210-pound obstacle, to be exact. That’s the size of McLean’s towering ace, Teddy Merritt, a junior right-hander who went 5-3 with a 1.99 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 53 innings last year and is the main reason the Liberty coaches picked the Highlanders to win the league.

McLean claimed the top seed in the district tournament last spring, but was blitzed in the semifinals, 13-2, by a Yorktown team that was in the midst of a late-season five-game winning streak. Behind a staff led by Merritt and a lineup paced by first-team all-district outfielder Anthony Farmakides (.370, 12 RBI) and infielders Jackson Kantor (.370) and Tio Graybill (22 steals), the Highlanders appear ready to contend again in coach John Dowling’s sixth season.

The Patriots, who broke through for their first winning season under coach John Skaggs, graduated the league’s Player of the Year in Carson Wood and a handful of other experienced bats. Nonetheless, Yorktown is expected to be in the mix again behind senior left-hander Aidan Henning (5-1) and a lineup featuring Koomey and Will Porter (.325, 2 HR), the quarterback for the school’s football team who is expected to help fill the leadership void left by Wood and Tanner Wall.

South Lakes was hit the hardest of any Liberty team by graduation, but the Seahawks return perhaps the district’s best player in junior Ryan Dooley (.306, 20 RBI, 11 steals), a Virginia Military Institute recruit who will slide over to the shortstop position previously manned by his brother, Jack. The program has qualified for regionals in each of its first four seasons under coach Morgan Spencer, and his club’s ability to do so again this spring will depend on how several new starters produce around Dooley and whether talented junior right-hander Jack Thompson is able to emerge as the team’s ace after the loss of workhorses Josh Taylor and Jack Nathan.

The league’s third and fourth regional berths will likely be a four-team race between South Lakes along with Herndon, Langley and Washington-Lee.

The Hornets have one of the district’s best athletes in two-way threat Mike Jones, but will need several youngsters to mature quickly around him in coach Chris Metz’ second season. The Saxons, under first-year coach Jared Sronce, added an impact transfer in junior middle infielder William Bean, who has committed to play at West Virginia University. And Washington-Lee, now led by former longtime Langley coach Kevin Healy, will be led by senior Trey Haley, a first-team all-district pick last spring.

Coaches Poll
1. McLean (31)
2. Yorktown (30)
3. South Lakes (26)
4. Langley (15)
5. Washington-Lee (14)
6. Herndon (11)
* points awarded via votes by league coaches, descending from 6 for 1st place, 5 for 2nd place, etc.

Mag’s Predictions
District Champion:
Player of the Year: Ryan Dooley, Jr., IF, South Lakes
Pitcher of the Year: Teddy Merritt, Jr., RHP, McLean

McLean Highlanders
Head Coach:
John Dowling, 6th year (68-45), 8th year overall (79-77)
2018 Record: 14-8 overall, 8-2 district
Key Losses: LHP Max Groppe, C Grant Williams, RHP James Beahn
Key Returners: Jr. RHP Teddy Merritt, Jr. OF Anthony Farmakides, Sr. IF Jackson Kantor, Jr. IF Tio Graybill
College Bound: None Committed
Coach’s Comments: “We graduated an outstanding group that included some of the best competitors and best leaders we've ever had. Their shoes are going to be very hard to fill. That said, the early returns this year are very encouraging. While there are a lot of new faces, most are coming from a JV team that went 12-2 and thus far they've committed to getting after it every day in practice. We put together the toughest non-district schedule we could [with games against West Springfield, Chantilly, Madison, Centreville] to help prepare us for what we expect to be a very competitive Liberty District again.”

Yorktown Patriots
Head Coach:
John Skaggs, 5th year (33-53)
2018 Record: 13-11 overall, 6-4 district
Key Losses: OF Carson Wood; OF Tanner Wall; 3B John Merlene; 2B Andrew Simmons
Key Returners: Sr. LHP Aidan Henning; Sr. IF Will Porter; Sr. IF Jonah Margosis; Sr. C Ben Koomey
College Bound: Aidan Henning (Christopher Newport); Ben Koomey (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)
Coach’s Comments: “We lost some big bats last year but we have a lot of arms coming back that will keep us in games. We still have a good amount of power coming back along with a lot of hungry underclassmen looking to make a name for themselves. This will be a senior-lead team with 10 seniors.”

South Lakes Seahawks
Head Coach:
Morgan Spencer, 5th year (52-40), 11th year overall (115-109)
2018 Record: 15-9 overall, 6-4 district
Key Losses: RHP Josh Taylor; LHP Jack Nathan; IF Jack Dooley; OF Will Irwin; C Avery Neaves; OF Cooper Rosner
Key Returners: Jr. IF Ryan Dooley; Jr. RHP Jack Thompson; Sr. IF/RHP Braden Huebsch; Sr. C Clayton Long
College Bound: Ryan Dooley (Virginia Military Institute); Clayton Long (College of Idaho)
Coach’s Comments: “I am very excited about this yea'r’s team. We have nine seniors who have worked extremely hard and are very hungry to make an impact this year. We have a lot of players on our team that are unproven and anxious to compete for a Liberty District championship. It should be tight race again this year and I can't wait to watch this group get better every day.”

Langley Saxons
Head Coach:
Jared Sronce, 1st year (0-0)
2018 Record: 9-14 overall, 6-4 district
Key Losses: OF John Eames; RHP Kenny Lippman; IF Colter Carton
Key Returners: Jr. IF/RHP Nick Gasparis; Jr. OF/RHP Jack Hoeymans
College Bound: Jr. IF William Bean (West Virginia)
Coach’s Comments: “We graduated 82% of our innings thrown last year and 72% of our ABs. We will be young in terms of varsity playing time experience outside of Jack Hoeymans, Nick Gasparis and William Bean. Just like most high school teams, we will go as far as our pitching [takes us].”

Washington-Lee Generals
Head Coach:
Kevin Healy, 1st year (0-0), 11th year overall (116-113)
2018 Record: 9-12 overall, 1-9 district
Key Losses: 1B Ryan Edelstein; RHP/OF Mac Mulock; 2B Jake Ruge
Key Returners: Sr. IF Trey Haley; Jr. RHP/IF Sam Dozier; Sr. OF Sam Nichols; Sr. OF Jack Winslow; Sr. C Gus Nathanson; Sr. IF Aidan Lowe
College Bound: Trey Haley (Case Western)
Coach’s Comments: “This group has worked hard through the winter and I'm having fun with them in our early season practices. You're never sure what kind of hand you have dealt to you until the games start for real, but I've been very pleased with what some of the younger guys have been doing on the mound, and what some of the older guys have been doing at the plate in practice. This is a bunch of guys that haven't been in a regional tournament game yet, and they're hungry to get on that stage. I think if we maximize what we have we can get there.”

Herndon Hornets
Head Coach:
Chris Metz, 2nd year (8-11), 5th year overall (26-58)
2018 Record: 8-11 overall, 3-7 district
Key Losses: RHP/IF Joe Wright; LHP/OF Jabbari Smith
Key Returners: Sr. IF/RHP Mike Jones; Sr. OF/RHP Colin Jones; Sr. OF/RHP Colin Hagerup; Sr. OF/RHP Joe Shapiro; Jr. OF Eddie Ozycz; Jr. 1B/RHP Hayden Wilson
College Bound: Colin Jones (Dickinson)
Coach’s Comments: “This year we have a young core returning to our team. As a coaching staff, we are very excited and optimistic about what can and will happen this year at Herndon. We have seen great gains over the past year and is our belief that our program is making great strides.”

Photos of Yorktown’s Aidan Henning and South Lakes’ Ryan Dooley courtesy of their respective programs