By Owen Gotimer
Ashburn (May 20, 2016) — Protection is a term used in baseball to explain how a team will set their lineup with a solid core of middle-of-the-lineup hitters to make sure the defense can’t pitch around any of their guys.
On May 19, Stone Bridge High School elected to intentionally walk Briar Woods High School senior clean-up hitting first baseman Caleb Barnes to load the bases in a 2-2 game in the fifth inning. But the Falcons protect Barnes with the power of senior third baseman Nathan Davis who crushed a one-out double to the left center gap, clearing the bases, and giving Briar Woods the runs they would need to beat Stone Bridge, 5-2, and win the Conference 14 championship.
“Nathan Davis is a student of the game. I hate seeing Barnes get walked, but with Nathan behind him that’s what you call protection,” Briar Woods head coach Jason Miller said. “Nathan’s been putting great swings on the ball this year. He’s hitting almost .500. He came up in a big spot, and he did the job.”
After a leadoff groundout in the fifth inning, Bulldog senior southpaw starter Brett Kreyer walked Falcon junior shortstop Jake Kleifges before junior right fielder Michael Ludowig hit a line drive single back up the middle. Stone Bridge went to the bullpen, intentionally walked Barnes to load the bases, and then paid the price when Davis connected on a 1-1 fastball.
“It’s really a team effort, getting guys on. I just happened to be in the spot to drive them in,” Davis said. “I had a nice double off Brett earlier, so I think they just wanted a fresh arm and thought it would mess with me a little bit. Luckily, I was able to stay on that fastball and put it in the gap.”
The new three-run lead would prove enough for the Falcons’ pitching staff. Briar Woods junior starter Sean Clark threw four innings allowing just two runs – both unearned. Back-to-back singles in the first inning erased an early Falcon lead, but Clark settled in before handing the ball off to the Briar Woods bullpen.
“I was a little nervous at first, but I’ve been doing this for so long,” Clark said. “I just started going back to what I do and forgot about everything; I didn’t even realize it was the championship game and how big it was.”
One of eight juniors on the Briar Woods roster, Clark battled through the 2015 season with his sophomore-led teammates knowing they could prosper in 2016.
“We took our lumps last year with a sophomore-heavy team. We grew up as the season went on, and we got better, and we knew we were going to have a special team coming into this year,” Miller said. “But the intimidating thing was we knew Stone Bridge had a special team coming back. We knew Potomac Falls had three strong arms coming back. We knew that Tuscarora is always scrappy, and they had a great middle infield coming back.”
Stone Bridge returned a core group from their 2015 VHSL 5A state championship team even though one major piece of the puzzle changed. With the opening of Riverside High School, Bulldogs head coach Sam Plank departed to open the Rams’ program. Enter former Madison assistant coach Andrew Baird.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me. I’ve come into a phenomenal program. Coach Plank and I go way back competing from my time at Madison,” Baird said. “I couldn’t have asked for more from these guys. They are a phenomenal group of guys, and they come every day to work; I knew that was what I was going to get from them.”
After allowing a first-inning run to the Falcons, the Bulldogs worked hard and settled down as Kreyer got out of two big jams over the next three innings allowing just two runs through the first four frames.
“We both battled tonight; haymakers were thrown. We just ended up on the wrong side of that score,” Baird said. “The credit goes to them. They came out and they executed within the game. They made the plays they needed to, and we didn’t tonight. Nobody likes to lose, it’s not a good feeling. But we live to fight another day. Congratulations to them and the hard work they put in.”
Both Briar Woods and Stone Bridge have work to put in as Conference 14 sends three teams – the Falcons, the Bulldogs and the Tuscarora Huskies – to the VHSL 5A North region tournament starting on Tuesday, May 24.
“We have to make sure our arms are ready to go, we have to make sure our bats are ready to go, and we have to make sure we’re ready mentally,” Baird said.
For Miller, the Conference 14 championship win and VHSL 5A North region berth is exceptionally special because of the level of competition his Falcons faced all spring.
“This year in Conference 14 is the best baseball I’ve seen at the high school level anywhere,” Miller said. “I’m super proud of my guys and happy that they’ve had success. We’ve done the little things, got the big hits, and everything has gone our way.”
Ventrice 1-4, K
Kleifges 1-2, 2B, 2 BB, 2 R
Ludowig 2-4, RBI, R, K
Barnes 1-3, 2B, BB, RBI, R, K
Davis 2-3, 2 2B, BB, 3 RBI, K
Hand 0-4, K
Richardson 0-3, 2 K
Rosales 0-2, BB, 2 K
Covert 0-2, BB, SB
Counts 0-1, K
Callahan 2-3, 2 R, SB
Mocabee 1-3, RBI, K
Greenberg 0-3, RBI
Beck 1-2, 2B, BB
Hough 0-1, sac bunt, HBP
Molthen 0-2, K
Clarke W 4 IP, 2 R, 0 ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 2 K
Jaekle 3 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K
Kreyer L 4.1 IP, 4 R, 4 ER, 6 H, 2 BB, 5 K
Fuller 1.2 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 H, 3 BB, 3 K
Callahan 1 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 H, 1 BB, 2 K