A recent rough patch saw the Oakton High baseball team’s record go from 7-3 to 7-7 as a result of a four-game losing streak. But first-year Cougars’ head coach Justin Janis, in remarks earlier this week, was confident his squad would come out of the April tailspin.
"I think we can come out of it anytime," said Janis, who this past off season became the program’s head coach after former skipper Scott Rowland decided to step down. "We’ve played some good teams lately. We just aren’t putting it all together [of late] — pitching, fielding and hitting."
Oakton had won seven of eight games before the four game slide, which began with a tough 4-3 extra innings loss at Concorde District opponent Robinson on April 17. That was followed by a 2-1 road defeat at the hands of district foe Westfield on April 22. Then, in home games on Thursday, April 23, and Friday, April 24, the Cougars lost to Centreville, 9-5, and local Vienna-area rival Madison, respectively.
Earlier this week, Oakton was scheduled to play district games against Chantilly and Herndon. This Friday night, Oakton will host district opponent Fairfax at 6:30 p.m.
"We were playing well around spring break," said Janis. "Our pitching all year has been great. A couple of weeks ago we were getting timely hits and playing good defense."
Once Oakton can snap the losing streak, it could get on another good roll.
The team’s top pitchers have been senior Adam Henne and sophomore Taiyo Francis, both right handers. The two top starters have consistently kept opposing line-ups at bay and given the Cougars a good chance to win.
"Adam has been throwing the ball well for us all year," said Janis. "He’s kind of been our work horse and leader on the mound."
Henne has successfully utilized three pitches, his fastball, curve and change-up. He struck out 12 batters in Oakton’s 5-2 win at Centreville on March 27 and fanned nine Langley hitters in his team’s 7-1 non-district road win over the Saxons on April 7.
"He’s thrown all his pitches for strikes," said the coach. "At times, he’s been dominating."
A year ago, Henne played second base most of the time and did not pitch much, except for some occasional appearances out of the bullpen. But Oakton lost some of its key starting pitchers to graduation last June and Henne has stepped right into the rotation and produced this season. He has also produced at the plate with a .370 batting average.
Francis, meanwhile, has been a solid starter as well. A sophomore, Francis could be a staple on Oakton’s pitching staff for the next couple of years.
"He has been real good and will have a chance to keep improving each year," said Janis, of Francis. "[Henne and Francis] are pretty much our one-two [starters] right now."
Relief pitcher Matt Chandler, a junior, has been the Cougars’ most effective contributor out of the bullpen this spring. Chandler, a third baseman when he is not on the hill, is batting at a .380 clip.
The Cougars’ best hitter this season has been senior left fielder Bobby McCormick, who is batting over .400 from the No. 3 spot in the order.
Other terrific seasons are coming from sophomore infielders Luke Willis, a shortstop, and Chris Hanson, who plays second base and some catcher as well. Both are hitting over .300.
<b>JANIS SPENT</b> the past three years as Oakton’s JV baseball coach. The three seasons before that, he was a varsity assistant on Rowland’s staff. A 1997 graduate of Oakton, Janis is a former Cougars’ player himself and played under former longtime head coach Tom Hall.
He said the transition from longtime Oakton assistant to varsity head coach has been a good one.
"I haven’t felt [unnecessary] pressure," he said. "I want to make sure I do my best. That’s important for the [individual] success of the players on the team. [As head coach] you’re a lot more involved with off the field and administrative stuff."
Janis’ coaching staff consists of Brian McGowan, Eric Gibbons, Preston Madden, Ed Jablonski and Bill Grossman. The program’s head JV coach is Carson Carroll, with Todd Burger and Kent Stokely as JV assistants.
Rowland, the former head coach, led the Cougars to Northern Region titles in 2000, 2001 and 2007 and led them to the state AAA crown in that 2000 season. Last year, Oakton went 19-5 and reached the region semifinals before losing to Lake Braddock. Rowland officially stepped down on Oct. 1.