April 2 - A young Paul VI Catholic team might be turning the corner after a rugged start to the 2019 season.
The Panthers (5-6) enter today’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference match-up at Bishop McNamara (MD) having won four of five, their lone loss coming in walk-off fashion, 3-2, at No. 1 Battlefield last Wednesday.
A big reason for the turnaround is a pitching staff that has compiled a 1.10 ERA with 37 strikeouts to just six walks in 31.2 innings over the recent five-game stretch. Freshman left-hander Bradley Gagen, who has committed to pitch at the University of Virginia, struck out seven over five innings in an 11-1 win over St. Mary’s Ryken (MD) on Mar. 24 and struck out the side in order to record the save in a 4-2 win over George Mason on Friday, senior Richie Smiechowski went the distance in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Bishop Ireton, and senior ace Nick Ortega earned his first win after going four innings in Saturday’s 11-1 win over Brooke Point.
Another freshman, Bryce Dolby, closed Sunday’s game out and a third, Aidan McDonald, has settled in as the team’s shortstop and leadoff man.
“Our pitchers have done well, we’ve been in every game we’ve played,” Emerson said. “It was a combination of not being able to put enough offense together and not taking care of the baseball that was hurting us. It still is, but we’re getting better. We’re working hard, playing as a team and finding ways to win.
“Our mix of youth and veteran guys is really starting to jell.”
That chemistry was developed in the midst of several close contests last month. In its six losses, Paul VI led at one point four times. Emerson’s club lost two of those games on walk-offs, and another in extra innings. Eight of the Panthers’ games have been decided by three runs or less.
Now, they will look to continue their winning ways as they begin a five-day stretch in which they travel to McNamara, No. 9 Bishop O’Connell and host Ireton.
“I think they responded well [after the 1-5 start] ... but we still have a long way to go,” Emerson said. “We have a lot left to prove. If we can minimize preventable mistakes, we can play with anyone.”
Riverside’s Swank, Setien Sidelined With Injuries
Riverside has dropped its first five games, and a major reason for the early-season slide is injuries to two of its senior leaders, shortstop Carson Swank and right-hander David Setien.
Swank, a Yale University recruit and member of the 2018 NOVA Nine Team, has a hairline fracture to the Hamate bone in his hand and is out for five more weeks. He had the hand placed in a cast early last week. Setien, who was expected to be one of the Rams’ top starters this spring, has yet to pitch and will likely miss the season with a shoulder injury.
Another key player, junior catcher Jake Miller, continues to recover from an offseason shoulder injury but could return before the end of the season. Riverside travels to Loudoun County tonight.
Six Area Schools Appear in VISAA’s Initial ‘19 Rankings
The Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association released its first Top 10 polls for its three division, and six area schools appear in the state’s private school rankings.
Episcopal (7-1), ranked No. 9 in the Northern Virginia Top 10, was tied with Norfolk Academy for sixth in the VISAA’s Division I poll. The Maroon is followed by No. 8 Bishop O’Connell (5-2) - the No. 9 team in the Northern Virginia rankings - then No. 9 Flint Hill (4-6) and No. 10 Paul VI (5-6).
Highland School (7-3) is ranked No. 3 in the Division II poll, and Fredericksburg Christian (5-4) is No. 6.
Photo of Paul VI’s Nick Ortega by Fred Ingham