Vogatsky Deals North Past Central in Commonwealth Games Gold Medal Game

July 22 - Joe Vogatsky took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and went the distance as the North held off the Central, 7-4, in a rain-shortened gold medal contest yesterday at the Commonwealth Games in Lynchburg. 

The championship is the North’s ninth in 10 years under coach Mike Covington, the longtime skipper at Potomac who has guided the team each year since the Commonwealth Games were first held for baseball in 1991.

“Joe Vogatsky was phenomenal on the mound today, upper-80s bumping 90 [MPH] here and there and with an outstanding slider,” Covington said. “He kept them completely off-balance.”

Vogatsky, the Kettle Run right-hander who has committed to pitch at James Madison, was handed an early lead when the North scored four first-inning runs on Central starter Brandon Eike (Powhatan), a North Carolina recruit. Vogatsky didn’t allow a hit until Bobby Ayscue (Cosby) hit a chopper down the line that third baseman Eddie Eisert (Bishop O’Connell) was unable to backhand in the bottom of the fifth inning. 

Three fifth-inning errors led to three unearned runs as the Central cut its deficit to 5-3, and it would pull to within a run an inning later on Aycue’s RBI triple. Unshaken, Vogatsky would fan the next batter to end the sixth, his seventh strikeout of the day. 

“We made a couple errors and got him in trouble, and he bounced back and got a couple punchouts to get himself out of it,” Covington said. “I was really impressed by him.” 

Added Vogatsky, who also tossed a scoreless inning to close Friday’s 11-4 win over the East: “I was locating my fastball very good and the offspeed was working. The slider was working really good and the change-up was dropping and hitting its spots. I just keep throwing my pitches and eventually they’re going to make the plays, and they did.”

In the top of the seventh, it was his teammates’ turn to pick him up. Tristan Gordon (Page County) and Blake Fisher (Highland School) hit back-to-back RBI singles to give the North two insurance runs, which would provide the final margin when the game was called with two outs following a lengthy weather delay. 

Gordon finished 2-for-3 with a walk, while Braden Mack (Potomac) reached in all three plate appearances and Thomas Trinca (Centreville) added two hits. 

“Jumping out 4-0 right away I thought relaxed the kids,” Covington said. “Their confidence level and their determination really showed today in their language in the dugout.”

Notable: Earlier yesterday, the West beat the East, 5-4, in the bronze medal game … Prior to yesterday’s rain, the weekend yielded scorching temperatures in the mid-and high-90s that reached well into triple digits on the artificial turf playing surface at Liberty University. “The kids showed a lot of toughness being able to battle through four games in three days with a workout under those conditions,” Covington said … Eisert, Fisher and Nathan Cmeyla (Briar Woods) were also on the North’s gold medal-winning team last summer … The North hit .324 (36-for-111) with a .435 on-base percentage at the tournament, averaging 6.5 runs in the four contests … Trinca was 6-for-16 with a team-high six RBI over the weekend, while Mack reached base seven times, going 4-for-6 with two RBI, two walks, a hit by pitch and two sacrifice bunts. Tre Williams (South County) went 5-for-12 and Gordon, Eisert and Cmeyla each had four hits … The game marked the end of Central skipper Bill Pelot’s long tenure at the Games. The former Louisa County coach has been with the Central as an assistant or the head coach for all 29 years of the tournament. 

Quotable: “It was a good team effort all-around … it was a really fun experience. The guys are good, and we all hung out and bonded really well. A very talented group.” - Joe Vogatsky, on his experience with the North team this weekend at the Commonwealth Games.

Media: Player of the Game interview with Joe Vogatsky and postgame interview with coach Mike Covington. Game highlights on the mag’s Twitter page, including a recap of the North’s four-run first inning

Photo of Joe Vogatsky by Joey Kamide

Clutch Hits by Eisert, Gordon and Fisher’s Relief Work Lead North to Gold Medal Game

July 21 - Clutch hits by Eddie Eisert and Tristan Gordon and some crafty relief work by Blake Fisher enabled the North to overcome a four-run deficit and beat the West, 7-6, last night to clinch a spot in today’s gold medal game at the Commonwealth Games in Lynchburg. 

After the West built a 6-2 lead on starter Nathan Knowles (Yorktown) and reliever Tre Williams (South County), the North bats finally came alive in the top of the fifth. A two-run single by George Mason recruit Thomas Trinca (Centreville) cut the deficit in half and a two-run single by Eisert, the Bishop O’Connell standout committed to N.C. State, pulled the North even. 

“In a situation like that and getting the job done, it feels good,” Eisert said.

The big hits loosened up a dugout that was growing frustrated after posting just one run in their loss to the Central earlier in the day.

“One of the things I talked to them about and started fussing about in the third inning was, ‘Quit going up there and trying to kill the ball whenever there’s a guy on third base and let’s move some runners. Quit trying to pull it and let’s go back-side and hit the ball the other way’,” said North coach Mike Covington.

In the bottom of the fifth, Fisher came on for Williams with two outs and the bases loaded. A two-time first-team VISAA Division II all-state selection at Highland School, the right-hander got an inning-ending ground ball. Ben Thomas (Potomac) then led off the sixth by drawing a walk and moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Braden Mack (Potomac). North skipper Mike Covington then inserted Tristan Gordon, who hit .486 with 10 homers and 32 RBI en route to first-team Class 2 all-state honors at Page County, as a pinch hitter for Griffin Boone (Forest Park). 

The move paid off, as Gordon laced a go-ahead double to the right-center gap. Fisher could come back on and toss scoreless frames in the sixth and seventh to earn the decision and send the North to today’s gold medal game against the Central. 

“Really focused on hitting all my spots, getting down the mound and getting all my mechanics straight,” Fisher said. “It’s great to be back in the gold [medal] game.”

Added Covington: “[Fisher] really competed on the mound. The first day, I was going to use him in long if we had to but Eric [Bohenek] went on that four-inning run and we didn’t have to. I really wanted to save him to help out [in the medal game], but obviously we had to do what we had to do to get there. 

“The biggest thing is he came in and threw the ball over the plate.”

Notable: A solo homer by Nathan Cmeyla (Briar Woods) tied the game at 1-1 in the fourth and ended a streak of 23 consecutive plate appearances without a hit by the North dating to the fifth inning of its 10-1 loss to the Central earlier in the day … Eisert finished 2-for-3 with a walk and has four hits at the tournament … The North (2-1) and Central (2-1) will last met for the gold medal in 2017, when the Central snapped the North’s seven-year championship run. The East (1-2) and West (1-2) will play in the bronze medal game this morning … The North, which has trailed at one point in all three games this weekend, has played in the gold medal game in 26 of the 29 years at the Commonwealth Games … Joe Vogatsky (Kettle Run), a James Madison recruit, will start today on the mound. 

Quotable: “It would be very easy for Tristan, who is a three-time all-state guy, or Blake, who is an all-state guy, to sit around and pout and be upset. But they all understand that the team goal is to win the gold medal.” - North coach Mike Covington, on his players accepting supporting roles this weekend and taking advantage when given opportunities.

Media: Player of the Game interview with Highland School’s Blake Fisher. Game highlights on the mag’s Twitter page, including Cmeyla’s home run, Gordon’s go-ahead double and Fisher recording the final out

Next: The North plays the Central at 12 p.m. All games at the tournament are held at Liberty University. 

Photo of Eddie Eisert by Joey Kamide

After Loss, North Faces Must-Win: “Get on track tonight, or we won’t be in the right game tomorrow.”

July 20 - Unable to solve Central right-hander Justyn Hudson, the North dropped a 10-1 decision this afternoon and now must win its game against the West tonight to advance to tomorrow’s gold medal game at the Commonwealth Games in Lynchburg. 

Hudson went the distance, scattering six hits to stymie a North lineup that pounded 15 hits in an 11-4 win over the East last night. Hudson was a first-team Class 3 all-state selection as a junior at Park View-South Hill this spring. With the win, the Central moves to 2-0 and locked up a spot in the gold medal contest. 

“I thought our approach was pretty bad,” North coach Mike Covington said. “We had a lot of first-pitch outs, we never really gave him a chance to get in trouble. It was just a bad day, all the way around.”

North starter Teddy Merritt (McLean) was charged with six runs on five hits in three-plus innings, and reliever Wyatt Shenkman (Riverside) allowed four runs on four hits in four innings. 

“I threw a lot of strikes, which I was happy about,” said Merritt, a 6-foot-6 right-hander who committed earlier this month to High Point. “But I left balls up, and that’s why I gave up so many hits.”

An RBI single by Braden Mack (Potomac) cut the North’s early deficit to 2-1 in the bottom of the third, but the Central responded the next inning with two runs on Merritt and two more when a single past a drawn-in infield allowed two inherited runners to score on Shenkman. The Central scored four in the sixth to put the game away. 

The North is in danger of missing the gold medal game for just the fourth time in the 29-year history of the tournament. Covington told his charges they needed to move on quickly to be ready for what’s essentially an elimination game tonight. 

“Go get some rest, flush it, not much you can say about it,” the coach said. “Come back and get on track tonight, or we won’t be in the right game tomorrow.”

Notable: In today’s second game, the West beat the East, 4-3, so is also 1-1 entering tonight’s game … Tre WIlliams (South County) continues to swing a hot bat. He tripled and scored on Mack’s RBI in the second, then singled in the fifth and he’s 4-for-5 on the weekend … Ryan Dooley (South Lakes) led off with an infield single and has three hits through the first two games … Nathan Cmeyla (Briar Woods) and Eddie Eisert (Bishop O’Connell) had the North’s other two hits … Nathan Knowles (Yorktown) is expected to start tonight’s game. 

Quotable: “It’s a big crowd, there’s a lot of coaches and scouts here and you just want to do your best.” - Central starter Justyn Hudson, after tossing a complete game today. 

Next: The North plays in the final pool play game tonight against the West.

Photo of coach Mike Covington by Joey Kamide

Trinca, Bohenek lead North Past East, 11-4, in Commonwealth Games Opener

July 20 - Thomas Trinca was 3-for-4 with two triples, a home run and four RBI and Eric Bohenek recovered from a shaky start to give the North five innings as they beat the East, 11-4, in their opener at the Commonwealth Games in Lynchburg last night. 

Trinca, the George Mason recruit who hit .423 with 16 extra-base hits this spring, showed his tremendous pop with three-baggers to both fields and three-run round-tripper that slammed off the scoreboard at Liberty University and pushed the North’s lead to 9-4 in the bottom of the fourth. 

“I was just looking for my pitch,” Trinca said. “Just trying to get what I could get.”

Ryan Dooley (South Lakes), Ben Thomas (Potomac) and Tre Williams (South County) each added two hits and the North pounded out 15 in the nightcap of the 29th annual tournament.

After the East took a 4-0 lead on Bohenek in the top of the first, Dooley didn’t waste any time starting the comeback. The left-handed swinging Virginia Military Institute recruit singled up the middle, then came in on Trinca’s triple. The North pulled even in the second when Thomas and Williams led off with singles, moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Braden Mack (Potomac) and scored on a ground out by Griffin Boone (Forest Park) and an RBI single to left by Dooley. 

“I had no doubt that we were going to hit and it was a matter of time,” North coach Mike Covington said. 

Bohenek settled in, retiring 12 of the next 15 before giving way to relievers Eddie Eisert (Bishop O’Connell) and Joe Vogatsky (Kettle Run) while the North pulled away. Eisert and Vogatsky each tossed a scoreless inning.

Tristan Gordon (Page County) had an RBI double in the third and Mack an RBI single in the fourth before Trinca’s homer put the game away. They’d plate two more in the sixth on ground out by Blake Fisher (Highland School) and a sacrifice fly by Nick Lottchea (Westfield).

“As good as we hit the ball, the difference in the game was [Bohenek] getting us through five innings after we had that start,” Covington said. “He started mixing and threw a few change-ups and got his breaking ball working.”

The North continues play this morning against the Central - who beat the West, 6-4, in the other game last night - and then plays the West this afternoon. The winner of the North-Central game clinches a spot in tomorrow’s Gold Medal game. 

Notable: Teddy Merritt (McLean), a 6-foot-6 right-hander who committed earlier this month to High Point, will start against the Central. Merritt was 5-1 with a save, a 3.02 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 44 innings for the Highlanders this spring … Today’s temperatures are forecasted to reach into triple digits, which is even hotter on the artificial turf playing surface. Tournament organizers are preparing for potential delays should trainers determined the conditions become too hot. 

Quotable: “I told him, as an ex-college college coach and scout, ‘When I go see pitchers, I want to see you on your bad days as well as your good days. And today wasn’t a good day, but any college coach here today has to walk away not as impressed with the stuff because it wasn’t great today, but with the demeanor and the poise and the bulldog in him to get through that and hold that game there for us’. That was just clutch.” - North coach Mike Covington, on Eric Bohenek’s five-inning outing.

Media: Player of the Game interview with Centreville’s Thomas Trinca. Game highlights on the mag’s Twitter page, including Trinca’s three-run homer.

Next: The North plays in the first game this morning against the Central at 9:30, then will play in the third game this afternoon against the West.

Photo of Thomas Trinca by Joey Kamide

Heritage Assistant Van Dusseldorp Named New Coach at Champe

July 19 - Scott Van Dusseldorp has been hired as the new head coach at John Champe, the school announced via its athletic department Twitter handle this morning. 

Previously an assistant for nine seasons at Heritage and Woodgrove, Van Dusseldorp inherits a Knights program that went 9-13 in former coach Michael Prince’s second season this spring. Prince did not have his contract renewed by the school’s athletics director, Joe Breinig, in an outster that has since escalated to a legal matter. 

“I’m excited to get things underway,” Van Dusseldorp said when reached earlier today. “I think Champe is a good spot for me, I live here in the community and look forward to getting everyone to buy in and get the program moving forward.”

In Van Dusseldorp, the Knights are getting a veteran in Loudoun County baseball circles. The 31-year-old graduated from Heritage in 2006 before moving on to play at Shenandoah University. He returned to coach as an assistant with the Pride from 2011-14, then again in 2018-19 after spending three seasons as an assistant at Woodgrove. He has also coached on the travel circuit with the Diamond Elite program. 

Van Dusseldorp, who is a physical education teacher at Heritage, received his master’s degree in coaching from West Virginia University. He resides in Aldie not far from the school. 

“I’m looking forward to building on the previous year’s progress,” the coach said. “Hopefully we can hit the ground running.”

The hiring leaves current area vacancies at Herndon, Riverbend, Stone Bridge and West Potomac. Herndon has made a hire pending approval from Fairfax County Public Schools, with an official announcement expected next week.

Photo of Scott Van Dusseldorp by Michael Ferrara

Commonwealth Games Preview: North Seeks 9th Gold Medal in 10 Years

July 19 - The North team will be seeking its ninth Gold Medal in 10 years at this weekend’s Commonwealth Games held at Liberty University in Lynchburg.

The team had to make two late roster changes when St. John’s right-hander and shortstop James Triantos and Page County lefty T.R. Williams, who would have been two of the North’s top arms, informed coach Mike Covington earlier this week that they’d be unable to attend. Covington quickly tabbed replacements in Forest Park shortstop Griffin Boone, who recently committed to Virginia Commonwealth University, and Centreville right-hander Eric Bohenek, who is likely to start tonight’s opener against the East. 

Boone joins middle infielders Ryan Dooley (South Lakes) and Blake Fisher (Highland School), while Bohenek joins a staff heavy on right-handers. That group includes Joe Vogatsky (Kettle Run), who could throw in relief and be available to start Sunday’s medal game, as well as Teddy Merritt (McLean), Nathan Knowles (Yorktown) and Wyatt Shenkman (Riverside). Two from the trio of Merritt, Knowles and Shenkman will start the North’s games tomorrow against the Central and West. 

Eddie Eisert (Bishop O’Connell) and Tre Williams (South County) will be the starters on the infield’s corners, with Thomas Trinca (Centreville), Nick Lottchea (Westfield) and Ben Thomas (Potomac) starting in the outfield. The North’s catchers are Nathan Cmeyla (Briar Woods), Tristan Gordon (Page County) and Braden Mack (Potomac). Mack, Eisert, Fisher and Williams will also be available in relief. 

“I think our overall team speed is good, and I think we have a good lineup even though I’m disappointed Triantos is not in the middle of it,” Covington said. “But Griffin is a very good player and Cmeyla was our 4-hole last year and we’ll plug him right back in there. I think ultimately our weekend will go how our pitching goes.”

The North’s roster includes seven players committed to Division I programs, with several others expected to make their college decision soon. Over two dozen colleges are expected to be represented at the tournament this weekend. 

Also fielding a deep lineup will be the Central, which features a recent North Carolina commit in Powhatan’s Brandon Eike, a two-way threat on the mound and as a middle infielder. While playing for his EvoShield Canes travel team, Eike was the winning pitcher earlier this month in the championship game at the Perfect Game WWBA 17U National Championship in Georgia. He was the Central’s top hitter and winning pitcher in the bronze medal game at last year’s Commonwealth Games. 

Midlothian’s Christian Chambers and James River’s Will Riley will also hit in the middle of coach Bill Pelot’s lineup. Chambers has committed to James Madison and Riley to the Virginia Military Institute. 

The West boasts perhaps the best offensive club this weekend, but has questions on the mound. Coach Rodney Spradlin’s lineup will be led by Riverheads catcher Braeson Fulton, another James Madison recruit, and one of the tournament’s best uncommitted players in Jefferson Forest outfielder Jackson Cherry. 

The East also has plenty offensively with the likes of Ocean Lakes third baseman Johnny Wall and shortstop Carson DeMartini, a Virginia Tech recruit, as well as Cox outfielder Sam Slevin and Greenbrier Christian’s Ethan Ott. Coach Sean Townsend’s staff will be led by Prince Anne lefty Jordan Irizarry. 

Covington, who has managed the North each year since the Games were first held for baseball in 1991, said tonight’s first games will determine how teams manage staffs for their final pool play games tomorrow. 

“If you lose, then you’ve got to make some adjustments,” he said. “If you take care of business early, you can line pitching up and be sure you’re saving your best guys for the last day.”

For more information on the North team, click here for last month’s story. 

Game Schedule:

6:00 - West vs. Central
8:30 - North vs. East

Saturday (beginning at 9:30)
Central vs. North
West vs. East
East vs. Central
North vs. West

Sunday (beginning at 9:30)
No. 4 Seed vs. No. 3 Seed (Bronze Medal)
No. 2 Seed vs. No. 1 Seed (Gold Medal)

Teams at a Glance:

North Team
Head Coach:
Mike Covington
Pitcher to Watch: RHP Joe Vogatsky
Hitter to Watch: OF Thomas Trinca
College Commitments: Bishop O’Connell Eddie Eisert (N.C. State), South Lakes IF/OF Ryan Dooley (Virginia Military Institute), Kettle Run RHP/IF Joe Vogatsky (James Madison), Centreville OF Thomas Trinca (George Mason), Potomac C/RHP Braden Mack (Cornell), McLean RHP Teddy Merritt (High Point), Forest Park IF Griffin Boone (Virginia Commonwealth)

East Team
Head Coach:
Sean Townsend 
Pitcher to Watch: LHP Jordan Irizarry
Hitter to Watch: 1B Ethan Ott
College Commitments: Ocean Lakes IF Carson DeMartini (Virginia Tech)

Central Team
Head Coach:
Bill Pelot
Pitcher to Watch: RHP Brandon Eike
Hitter to Watch: IF Christian Chambers
College Commitments: Midlothian IF Christian Chambers (James Madison),  Powhatan RHP/IF Brandon Eike (North Carolina), Atlee IF Hayden Harris (Longwood), James River IF Will Riley (Virginia Military Institute), Matoaca RHP LaTroy Whitaker (Radford)

West Team
Head Coach:
Rodney Spradlin
Pitcher to Watch: RHP Connor Maggi
Hitter to Watch: C Braeson Fulton
College Commitments: Cave Spring IF Jalen Buster (Radford), Riverheads C Braeson Fulton (James Madison), Riverheads IF Grant Painter (James Madison)

Photos of, from left to right, Centreville’s Thomas Trinca by Fred Ingham, with Powhatan’s Brandon Eike, Riverheads’ Braeson Fulton and Ocean Lakes’ Carson DeMartini courtesy

West Potomac’s Linza Steps Down After 1 Season at Alexandria School

July 17 - Citing health concerns and a recommendation by his doctor, Jimmy Linza stepped down earlier his week after one season at West Potomac. 

The coach sent an email to the program’s players and parents with the news on Monday. 

“If I can’t give the program my full effort, which it deserves, it’s best that you move on to someone who can,” Linza wrote. “I do believe the program is in good shape and that all of us have made it better in our year together. There are many wins and championships still to come, without a doubt.”

Linza led the Wolverines to a 16-6 record and a second straight Gunston District championship, falling a game shy of a Class 6 state tournament berth and having an eight-game winning streak snapped after a Region 6C semifinal loss to eventual region and state champion Lake Braddock. He has a 146-70 record in 10 seasons, having previously served as the coach at Flint Hill, Falls Church, Mount Vernon and Hayfield. 

In an email earlier today to the magazine, Linza wrote, “[I’m] sorry to have to end it so soon, but better to be on the front end when it’s stuff like this.”

The departure of Linza means West Potomac will be guided by its fourth coach in three years when it takes the field next spring. Longtime Wolverines skipper Jim Sullivan resigned at midseason last year, and assistant Jason Hescock took over on an interim basis for the remainder of the season. Hescock has since been hired as the football coach at South Lakes.

West Potomac’s opening is the fifth at a Northern Virginia school this offseason, joining current vacancies at Champe, Herndon, Stone Bridge and Riverbend. The position has been advertised on the Fairfax County Public Schools website. 

Photo courtesy of West Potomac Baseball

McLean’s Merritt to Pitch at High Point

July 14 - It’s probably fitting that a pitcher standing 6-foot-6 would play for a school named High Point. 

That’s exactly what McLean’s Teddy Merritt will do, informing Panthers coach Craig Cozart this weekend that he would accept a scholarship offer to pitch at the Big South Conference school. Highlanders coach John Dowling confirmed the rising senior’s commitment earlier today. 

“We’re very happy for Teddy and excited to see what the future holds for him here at McLean and at High Point,” Dowling wrote via text message. 

Merritt finished 5-1 with a save, a 3.02 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 44 innings as McLean went 17-6 and won the Liberty District championship this spring, bouncing back after a slow start and tossing a three-hit shutout with seven strikeouts in a 3-0 district semifinal win over South Lakes. He earned a no decision after allowing three runs (two earned) over six innings in a 6-3 loss to Centreville in the Region 6D quarterfinals.

As a sophomore in 2018, the right-hander was 5-3 with a 1.99 ERA and 70 strikeouts to 25 walks in 53 innings. He plays in the offseason with the Marucci Stars travel program and will join the North team at next weekend’s Commonwealth Games in Lynchburg. 

“Teddy got thrown into the starting rotation as a freshman and never flinched,” Dowling said. “His physical tools are obvious, but what really sets him apart is his poise on the field and his awesome attitude off it. He never gets too high or too low, and has always been an outstanding teammate.”

High Point went 27-27 this season, advancing to within a game of the conference tournament final. The Panthers will return two area players next year in catcher Brian Rall (Patriot) and left-hander Jack Nathan (South Lakes), and will add West Potomac pitcher Jimmy Curley as part of their incoming recruiting class. 

Photo of Teddy Merritt courtesy of McLean Baseball

Potomac’s Braden Mack Commits to Cornell

July 12 - Potomac catcher and right-handed pitcher Braden Mack committed earlier today to play at Cornell University, Panthers coach Mike Covington has confirmed.

A member of the NOVA Nine Team and a second-team Class 5 all-state selection as a junior this spring, Mack will join his older brother, Brody, in playing at the Division I level. Brody Mack is an incoming freshman outfielder and left-handed pitcher at the College of William & Mary.

“At Cornell, I’ll become a part of a tight knit baseball family,” Mack wrote via text message. “It will be a big change going to school in New York, but I know for a fact I will continue to make memories in the year to come and keep everyone close to me.

“I want to thank everybody who’s supported me along the way including family, coaches, friends, and the Cornell staff for giving me this opportunity.”

Mack hit .449 a .552 on-base percentage, 31 hits and 25 RBI and went 6-1 with a 0.79 ERA and 47 strikeouts over 35 innings as Potomac won the Cardinal District championship this spring.

“I’m excited for Braden, capping off a great junior season with a commitment to a phenomenal university,” Covington wrote via text message. “He is Potomac baseball’s first Ivy Leaguer, I believe.”

Mack is playing this summer with the Marucci Stars travel program. The Big Red coaches offered him after seeing his at a tournament at the Diamond Nation complex in New Jersey.

At Cornell, he will join former Flint Hill standout Justin Taylor, a rising sophomore infielder. The Big Red went 14-24 this past season under coach Dan Pepicelli.

Covington reaffirmed his admiration for both Mack brothers and what they have brought to his program both on and off the field. “Both are president of their graduating classes, great students, role models, first-class kids,” he wrote. “and obviously pretty good players as well.”

Photo courtesy of Potomac Baseball

Auxiliary Nines: Sullivan’s Walk-off Gave Stafford Class 5 Title, Leads Mag’s Nine Moments

July 7 - Stafford’s run to the Class 5 state championship had it all - drama, clutch performances, with a little luck mixed in - and even Mother Nature seemed to not want it to end. 

The Indians knew they could be embarking on something special after traveled down to Southwestern Virginia and beat Halifax County, 3-1, to win the Region 5D championship while facing one of the state’s toughest home-field advantages. After shutting out Broad Run in the Class 5 state quarterfinals, they had an additional week to prepare for their semifinal with Hickory after rained postponed the state tournaments.

Once games resumed, Stafford found itself facing a 10-7 sixth-inning deficit against the Hawks, who entered on a 19-game winning streak.

Then the postseason magic began.

Joe Tolson hit a two-out double to get things started. Two batters later, Jimmy Baker dumped an RBI single into center field and Grant Fuller followed with a run-scoring single to left to draw Stafford to within 10-9. Tucker Sullivan, as he’d done all year, came up big in relief, retiring the Hawks in order in the top of the seventh. 

In the bottom half, the Indians loaded the bases with two outs and it was once again up to Baker and Fuller to come through with the season on the line. Baker worked a full count, then drew a walk to force in the tying run. After watching the first offering go for a strike, Fuller hit a soft comebacker toward the mound. Hickory’s pitcher, Jaren Snellinger, snagged the ball and tagged pinch runner Logan Steigerwald attempting to score for what appeared to be the final out of the inning. Steigerwald, however, was called safe as Snellinger had tagged him with his hand while the ball was in his glove, and the pitcher’s attempt to throw Fuller out pulled his first baseman off the bag. 

The pitcher’s gaffe enabled the winning run to score, and the Indians to advance to face Mills Godwin in the final.

“All you can do is put yourself in position to win a game, and we were able to put ourselves in that position,” Stafford coach Tommy Harrison said. “Fortunately, we were able to pull it out.”

The Indians had escaped, but their work wasn’t done. Much to Harrison’s delight, his club arrived at the field at the University of Richmond the following afternoon ready to play.

“I was worried because we were due for a letdown. We hadn’t had that yet, and the feeling was kind of, ‘When was it coming?’. But it didn’t come,” Harrison said. “We get to the field and damn if they weren’t as loose as a goose. I said to my coaches, ‘We are ready’, and just told the players to ‘do what you do’.”

For the Indians, that meant doing things in dramatic fashion. 

Facing a 3-2 deficit entering the bottom of the sixth, Joe Tolson drove Mike Tolson in on a ground out to tie the game. Freshman reliever Gunther Braendel escaped the top of the seventh unscathed after Mills Godwin loaded the bases, then Sullivan delivered the biggest hit in school history, a walk-off single in the bottom half to hand the Indians their first state championship. 

“It was just an unbelievable way to end an unbelievable year,” Harrison said. “This year, the pieces fell together. You’ve got to catch a break and have some luck in there, and we did. You think of the breaks we caught, and we caught some breaks against Hickory. It was just a special group, and I couldn’t be happier for them.”

Sullivan’s game-winner leads our Nine Moments from the 2019 season, a list that includes big comeback wins, milestone wins and a couple other postseason walk-offs in what was an exciting campaign across Northern Virginia. 

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 moments: 

Seven-Run 7th Propels South County Past Oakton for Nelson’s 1st Win

March 14 - Things hadn’t started well in Scott Nelson’s first game as South County’s new skipper. The Stallions trailed Oakton, 8-2, entering the bottom of the seventh in the season opener. But after they loaded the bases, Tyler Gauthier connected on a one-out grand slam to cut the deficit to 8-6. South County would load the bases again, and this time it was Alex Alderton who came up big with a two-run single to tie the score. A batter later, Frank Huston would come home for the game-winning run when a balk was called on Cougars reliever Mike Michallas, giving the Stallions a 9-8 victory and Nelson a memorable first game as a head coach. 

Potomac Falls’ Savino K’s 18 in 1-Hit Shutout Win Over Riverside

March 15 - Nate Savino was coming off a big sophomore campaign, and the reigning NOVA Nine Team member didn’t wait long to also leave a mark on the 2019 season. The Panthers’ left-hander struck out 18 - including the final eight Riverside batters - while tossing a one-hit shutout in a 5-0 win over the visiting Rams in the season opener for both teams. Savino faced just two over the minimum, those base runners reaching on a first-inning error and fourth-inning base hit by John Heltebran, while having 65 of 81 pitches go for strikes and throwing first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 23 batters he faced. He reached three-ball counts to only three batters, fanning all three, and permitted one runner to reach scoring position in perhaps the area’s most-dominant outing of the spring. 

Loudoun Valley’s Todd Becomes Area’s 1st Coach to Reach 500 Wins

March 28 - Wayne Todd has accomplished just about everything he can over four-plus decades as a high school head coach. He led Broad Run to the Group AA state championship in 1991, then guided Loudoun Valley to the 3A state title in 2014 while becoming the area’s winningest all-time coach. When his Vikings welcomed crosstown rival Loudoun County for a Dulles District contest in late March, David Gingras helped his skipper reach another milestone, slapping a two-out walk-off single past Raiders third baseman Wyatt DeProspero to scored Jared Molnar and give Todd his 500th career victory. According to the VHSL record book, he’s just the sixth coach in state history to reach the 500-win plateau. 

Highlanders Rally in 7th to Beat Stafford, Win ‘Let’s Play Two’ Championship

April 17 - Trailing 9-5 entering the final inning, McLean rallied for six runs in the top of the seventh to knock off Stafford in the championship game of the Eddie Hope ‘Let’s Play Two’ Tournament over spring break. After the Indians loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Jackson Kantor got Elijah Lambros and Tucker Sullivan to fly out to end the game. The Highlanders were in the midst of a 12-game winning streak en route to the Liberty District title, finishing the season 17-6. Stafford would lose just once more en route to Region 5D and Class 5 state titles. 

Koomey’s Walk-off Homer Propels Yorktown Past Herndon in Liberty Semifinals

May 14 - Ben Koomey had one of the biggest hits of the 2018 season, when his go-ahead home run propelled Yorktown past South Lakes and to the Liberty District championship. This year, the catcher came up clutch again in the postseason, hammering a three-run walk-off homer to send the Patriots past Herndon and back to the district final. They weren’t able to repeat, falling to McLean in the Liberty final, but Koomey nonetheless secured his place as one of the best hitters in the Arlington program’s history. He finished the year hitting .500 with 32 hits, 11 doubles, four homers and 26 RBI. 

Willard’s Walk-off Single Lifts Briar Woods Past Broad Run in Potomac Final

May 24 - Aidan Willard came to the plate with the score tied, 5-5, in the bottom of the seventh inning in the Potomac District final against Broad Run. Briar Woods’ left-handed swinging senior outfielder then drove a 3-1 offering from Spartans reliever Justin Rebok into left-center field to score Tyler Beetle from third and give the Falcons their third league championship in four years. Briar Woods would finish 20-5, having its season end in the Region 5C semifinals against another crosstown rival, Stone Bridge. 

Brentsville Punches Return Ticket to State Tournament on Reid’s Walk-off Single

May 28 - Brentsville District won four games in walk-off fashion this spring, none bigger than in the Region 3B semifinals. In the bottom of the ninth inning against William Monroe, Collin Reid laced a 2-0 offering down the right field line to score Luke Binsted from first and clinch a second straight Class 3 state tournament appearance. After beating Warren County, 6-1, to repeat as region champions, the Tigers were at it with the late-game heroics in the state quarterfinals on June 4 when Jake DeLisi’s fourth hit of the night drove home Braeden Deslippe in the bottom of the ninth for a 5-4 win over Park View-South Hill. Brentsville’s playoff magic, however, would end in the semifinals when DeLisi gave up a walk-off homer to eventual state champion Fluvanna County. The Tigers finished the season 21-4. 

Sullivan’s Walk-off Winner Gives Stafford Program’s 1st State Championship

June 14 - Tucker Sullivan laced a two-out, two-strike double to right to score Kaz Jordan and give Stafford a 4-3 win over Mills Godwin in the Class 5 state final at the University of Richmond. Sullivan’s game-winner came an inning after the Indians had rallied to tie the game in the sixth and capped an emotional 24-hour period that included an 11-10 walk-off win in the semifinals over Hickory, which entered riding a 19-game winning streak. The state championship was the first in program history for Stafford, which finished 24-3. 

Lake Braddock Wins Twice, Claims Class 6 State Title Behind Cassady’s Big Day

June 14 - For much of the season, Jay Cassady didn’t have a problem being part of the supporting cast on a loaded Lake Braddock team led by NOVA Nine Team members Lyle Miller-Green and Bobby Leitzel. But on the final day of the season, the Bruins’ left-hander didn’t take a back seat to anyone. After rain forced both the Class 6 state semifinals and championship game to be played on the same day, Cassady earned the win in relief in a 9-6 semifinal win over James River and again a few hours later in a 6-2 championship game win over Westfield, tossing a total of six innings between his two outings. He also totaled three hits and five RBI over the two games in what will go down as one of the all-time clutch state tournament performances in Northern Virginia history. Lake Braddock finished the season 26-3. 

Sponsor: This year’s NOVA Nine Team and Auxiliary Nines are sponsored by The St. James Sports, Wellness and Entertainment Complex in Springfield. For more information, visit www.thestjames.co.

Photo of Stafford’s Tucker Sullivan by Michael Greene