December 28 - Two area teams claimed high school state championships, a Little League team just missed becoming the first from Northern Virginia to advance to Williamsport in a quarter of a century, the local minor league club got a new ballpark deal, and one of the winningest prep coaches in area history called it quits.
In the second story in our Year in Review series, the magazine explores those headlines and other top Northern Virginia baseball stories from the past year:
West Potomac Overcomes Off-Field Drama, Wins 1st District Title Since ‘94
In March, what looked to be a state tournament-quality team nearly had its season derailed before it even started, as a two-year-old hazing incident was uncovered at West Potomac and led to the dismissal of two players and the suspension of another. Then longtime coach Jim Sullivan resigned in April due to a disagreement with school administration. Nonetheless, the Wolverines were able to win the Gunston District for the program’s first league title since 1994 before falling in the Region 6C quarterfinals to W.T. Woodson. The team was paced offensively by Alec Roberts, who hit .500 with an area-high eight home runs and 33 RBI after transferring from Edison. He is now playing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Dramatic Wins Spark Chantilly’s Turnaround, Run to State Tournament
In early May, a fourth trip to the state tournament in five years seemed improbable as Chantilly had lost nine of its first 15 games. But then the Chargers found lightning in a bottle, getting walk-off singles from Connor Pennell to beat Loudoun Valley and Westfield and a walk-off homer from Christian Parana to beat Oakton and avoid the Concorde District’s play-in game. Coach Kevin Ford’s team then advanced to the Concorde District final and Region 6D final before having its season end with a state quarterfinal loss to eventual champion West Springfield.
Fauquier Upsets Top-Ranked Riverside, Clinches State Berth
In late May, Riverside was riding a 10-game winning streak and in its third week as the No. 1 team in the Northern Virginia Top 10 Poll entering its Region 4C semifinal contest against then-unranked Fauquier. But the Rams would see their season end following the season’s biggest upset, dropping an 8-6 decision to the Falcons, who would then beat Woodgrove to win the region title and advance to the Class 4 state semifinals before falling to eventual champion Salem. Blaze O’Saben, a member of the NOVA Nine Team, had three hits as Fauquier built 5-0 and 8-2 leads, then Carson McCusker would toss three innings of scoreless relief to clinich the upset and a berth in the state tournament.
Madison’s Novak Named NOVA Nine Player of the Year
In June, a record four underclassmen were named to the NOVA Nine Team, including the first-ever sophomore, Potomac Falls left-hander Nate Savino. He was joined by three juniors - Riverside’s Carson Swank, Potomac’s Brody Mack and Battlefield’s Zach Agnos - and five seniors - Marshall’s Patrick Halligan, Fauquier’s Blaze O’Saben, Paul VI Catholic’s Thomas Russell, Lake Braddock’s Matt Thomas and Madison’s Kyle Novak, who was named the Player of the Year after hitting .527 with five home runs and 26 RBI. All five seniors named to the team are now playing collegiately at the Division I level, Halligan at George Mason University, O’Saben at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, Russell at the Naval Academy, Thomas at the College of William & Mary, and Novak at James Madison University.
West Springfield, Spotsylvania Win State Championships
In June, West Springfield rode the pitching tandem of Jared Lyons and Calvin Pastel past rival Lake Braddock in the Region 6C final and again in the Class 6 state semifinals, then upended defending state champion Western Branch in the championship game. The state title was the Spartans’ fourth in program history, tying Madison for the most among area public schools. Spotsylvania, meanwhile, overcame an 8-5 deficit by rallying for eight straight runs, forcing extra innings before scoring five in the top of the eighth in a 13-8 win over Abingdon in the Class 3 state final. The championship was the Knights’ first in program history.
Agnos Shines with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team
In late June, Jake Agnos, a graduate of Battlefield and the 2016 NOVA Nine Player of the Year, became the latest area player selected to the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. The then-rising East Carolina University junior left-hander was one of the CNT’s top pitchers in tuneup games against teams from the Coastal Plains summer collegiate league and in friendship series against Chinese Taipei and Cuba in July. Agnos compiled a 0.96 ERA in four relief appearances, striking out 14 while walking just one in 9.1 innings. His performance impressed professional scouts and improved his stock for the 2019 Major League Baseball Draft. The previous area player named to the CNT, Stone Bridge grad J.B. Bukauskas (in 2016), was a first-round pick by the Houston Astros in 2017.
Lake Braddock’s Rutherford Steps Down After 17 Seasons
In July, Lake Braddock coach Jody Rutherford stepped down after guiding the Burke school to 315 victories since 2002. Under his guidance, the Bruins won seven district and three region championships and in 2012 claimed the program’s first state title. Rutherford’s teams never had a losing season and reached the 20-win plateau seven times, including last spring, when Lake Braddock went 21-5 and won the Patriot District title before falling in the region final and state semifinals. Former McLean head coach John Thomas, who had spent the previous four seasons as the Bruins’ pitching coach, was tabbed the following month as Rutherford’s replacement. He became just the program’s third coach since 1985, as his predecessors, Dan Griel and Rutherford, each spent 17 seasons at the helm.
Vienna Post 180 Wins American Legion State Championship
In August, behind the likes of Kyle Novak, Justin Taylor, Jake Nielsen, Eric Lingebach, Avery Neaves and Nate Leas, manager Nick Good’s Vienna Post 180 club won it first American Legion state championship since 1990 and became the first team from Northern Virginia to win a title since 1992. Novak, the NOVA Nine Player of the Year who is now playing at James Madison University, hit .421 with 29 RBI in 22 games. Taylor, who is now playing at Cornell University, hit .442 with 26 RBI and was named the most valuable player of the state tournament. Lingebach posted huge numbers, hitting .441 with a post-record nine triples along with five homers and 51 RBI, while Neaves (.393, 5 HR, 25 RBI) and Leas (.348, 2 HR, 30 RBI) also keyed a lineup that averaged nearly 10 runs per game and set a club record with a .354 team batting average. Nielsen, who will pitch at Brigham Young University, went a perfect 7-0 and joined his father, Mike, as members of the family to win a state title with Post 180. Vienna finished 31-5, matching its record for wins in a season originally set by the 1990 team.
Loudoun South’s Williamsport Bid Falls 1 Win Short
In August, Loudoun South Little League swept through its district and state tournaments and advanced to the championship game of the Southeast Regional before falling, 3-0, to Peachtree City, GA. The team, coached by Sean Lizama, fell one victory short of becoming the first area team since Central Springfield in 1994 to advance to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA. Loudoun South was led offensively by Chad Yates (.583 batting average) and Griffin Burkholder (6 HR, 20 RBI) and on the mound by Shawn Arneja (5 wins, 0.39 ERA, 53 K’s in 30.2 IP) and Yates (53 K’s) over its 16 games.
Potomac Nationals Get New Ballpark Deal with City of Fredericksburg
In November, the Potomac Nationals announced that they would be moving to a new $35 million ballpark in Fredericksburg in 2020, ending the club’s near two-decade search for a new home. The 2019 season will be the Single-A Carolina League affiliate’s final campaign at Pfitzner Stadium, which opened in 1984 when the club moved from Alexandria. Officials in Prince William County are exploring options for how to utilize Pfitzner Stadium moving forward.
Photo of former Lake Braddock coach Jody Rutherford by Fred Ingham