Lake Braddock’s Shane Halley was so mad at himself after sailing a popup to second base in the bottom of the fifth inning that he just put his head down and sprinted towards second base – the senior pitcher’s best way to punish himself.
With two outs in the inning against Chantilly in the Northern Region baseball championship game at Yorktown High School on Friday night, Halley believe that he had just ended a bases loaded rally that saw the Bruins pull within two runs of the Chargers, 6-4.
Standing in the on-deck circle, senior Shannon Mark watched as the ball disappeared into the night sky.
“Please God, come back down and hit the ground,” Mark thought as the wind began to pick up.
Lake Braddock head coach Jody Rutherford thought the same thing standing near third base as he waved the Bruins’ base runners around the diamond.
“I knew as soon as it went up, it was just so high and the wind was blowing,” said Rutherford. “I thought that we had a chance at that ball falling.”
Through a combination of the height of the ball, the wind and the bright stadium lights, Mark and the Bruins got their wish as Chantilly junior second baseman Roger Strittmatter lost sight of the ball and it dropped right behind the bag at second base.
Halley ended up with a three-RBI bases-loaded double which gave the Bruins a 7-6 lead, en route to a 9-6 victory over the Chargers to claim Lake Braddock’s second Northern Region title in three years.
“We had a guy score from first on that ball. That tells you how hard they were hustling and how high that pop-up was,” said Rutherford.
<b>CHANTILLY SENIOR</b> pitcher Chris Yates started the bottom of the sixth in complete control, recording two quick outs. The third out, however, was decidedly more elusive. Yates lost the strike zone, walking Bruins seniors Brenden Daley and Ryan Buckrop and then allowing an RBI single to freshman Kenny Towns. Yates hit sophomore Ryan Lindemuth with a pitch to load the bases, setting up Halley’s fateful popup.
“Chris made a good pitch. I got real lucky,” said Halley. “I just got real lucky. That is all I can say.”
Mark, who was named the L. Patrick Lang Tournament MVP, capped the inning with a two-run homer, scoring Halley and himself with a 310-foot bomb over the right field fence to give the Bruins the 9-6 advantage.
“We played with fire and they are a good hitting team and you make one mistake, pitching or wherever, and it is going to hurt,” said Chantilly head coach Kevin Ford, who led the Chargers (18-7) to their first Northern Region Tournament finals in the program’s history. “We didn’t get it done on the mound. I am surprised that it is 9-6.”
The Chargers walked eight batters on the night and hit two more in a uncharacteristic performance on the mound.
Halley started on the mound for the Bruins, allowing three earned runs in three innings of work while striking out five. Lindemuth pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh to secure the Bruins’ victory.
“I feel like our guys never give up. They always believe that they can come back and win,” said Rutherford. “The guys had their backs against the wall in this tournament a couple of times and we just kept taking some good at bats and [we knew that] somebody was going to come through.”
With the victory, the Bruins (22-3) extended their winning streak to 19 games. That topic, however, has become taboo in the Bruins’ dugout.
“We don’t ever talk about it. Not a single person has mentioned that in our locker room or when I have been around. The only time I ever hear it is when I talk [to the media],” said Rutherford. “We don’t talk about it. We just want to win every time that we take the field.”
<b>NOTE:</b> In AAA VHSL state quarterfinal action on Tuesday, the Chantilly Chargers lost to Bethel, 4-2, at Old Dominion University. The trip to the state tourney was the first for the Chargers in school history. The Bruins, hosting Indian River at Lake Braddock, had their game suspended in the sixth inning due to rain. The Bruins held a 6-3 lead and play resumed on Wednesday afternoon. The result was too late for this edition.