The longer Jake Kline stayed on the mound, the stronger he seemed to pitch for the Potomac Falls High baseball team in its 3-2 Virginia State AA quarterfinals round home win over Grafton (Yorktown) on Tuesday night.
Kline, the senior right-handed pitching ace for the Panthers, went a full nine innings in the extra innings affair, helping Potomac Falls (22-3) advance to this Friday’s semifinals, set to take place at Radford University.
Grafton, the Region I runner-up and champions of the Bay Rivers District in the Tidewater area, saw its season end with the postseason setback, played on a warm spring night and in front of a large, partisan Potomac Falls crowd.
"I was running on complete adrenaline," said Kline (10-1), of pitching in the game’s later innings.
He wanted to remain in the game, even after it went into extra innings following seven innings with the score tied at 2-2.
"Definitely, you’ve got to stay in there," said Kline, who recalled pitching nine innings in a regular season win over Dominion High in the 2008 regular season. "There’s something about the last innings, you know you’ve got one more [inning] and want to give it everything you have."
Ultimately on Tuesday, Kline earned the pitching win. He helped his own cause with the game-winning base hit, a ground ball single into centerfield with one out that scored teammate Matt Rubino from second base to end the game and set off a spontaneous on-field celebration by the Panthers and an eruption of cheers from the teams’ fans.
Kline’s game-winning hit came off of a Grafton southpaw relief pitcher, who had entered the game to start the bottom of the ninth inning. Grafton starting pitcher Cody Moore, a junior, had pitched the first eight innings for the Clippers, allowing just two first inning runs in the no-decision.
Rubino, a left-handed batter in the No. 6 spot of the Panthers’ batting order, started the last half of the ninth with a walk, and then stole second base. One out later, he crossed the plate, barely ahead of the throw from the outfield, on Kline’s clutch single.
"I saw the pitch, and said, ‘That’s it,’ and hit it," said Kline, who hit a 2-2 offering. "I had the mentality up there of, ‘You’ve got to do the job.’ As soon as I hit it and it was past the pitcher’s mound, I was like, ‘We should win the game.’"
<b>KLINE’S WINNING HIT</b> was the game’s highlight moment, but it was his work on the mound that put the Panthers in position to win. He did not appear to have his best pitching stuff throughout the night, but hung in there and got better and better as the game wore on. Kline, recently named the Region II Player of the Year, allowed at least one base hit per inning over his first seven innings of work. But in extra innings, he retired all six batters he faced, three by strikeout, to prevent the Clippers from ever taking the lead.
Ben Sweger, the Panthers’ sophomore second baseman and leadoff hitter, realized Kline would be tough down the stretch following a mid-game conversation with him.
"I asked him how he was doing in the fifth inning," recalled Sweger. "He said, ‘I’m getting stronger. Just get me [one more] run.’"
Ironically, the run came off of Kline’s own bat in the ninth.
Joe Terango, the Panthers’ head coach, said his plan in the late innings was to keep Kline in the game unless a Grafton runner got into scoring position. In that case, he planned on bringing in lefty Eric Dimsey from the bullpen.
"We were going to keep him in there and ride him," said Terango. "We had Eric loose and ready to go in."
But that scenario never evolved as Kline retired the side in order in both the eighth and ninth innings.
"He’s just an incredible athlete and has incredible conditioning," said Terango, of Kline. "He went out there and went nine innings and got stronger as the game went along."
Kline only got touched up in the third inning when Grafton, trailing 2-0, scored a couple of runs to tie the game. After allowing a double to Grafton leadoff batter Ali Rodriguez to start the third, the Panthers got a bad break when the following batter, Ryan Johansen, laid down a bunt. The ball was fielded by Panther catcher Mike Spring. But his throw to first hit Johansen and the ball bounced away, allowing Rodriguez to score. Later in the inning, a single by Moore plated Johansen with the tying run. At that point, Grafton had runners on first and second with one out. But Kline retired the next two hitters to escape any more damage.
That was it for the Clippers’ scoring. Over the next six innings, Kline pitched shutout ball. He got help from his defense in the fifth when Grafton’s Bobby Donze, leading off the inning, hit an extra base hit into center field. But Donze attempted to stretch a double into a triple and was thrown out at third. A perfect Panther relay from center fielder Chad McMichael to middle infielder Sweger to third baseman Rubino cut Donze down.
"It was text book," said Terango.
For the night, Kline, over nine innings, allowed two runs and 11 hits, with nine strikeouts and no walks.
Potomac Falls’ first two runs came in the first inning. With one out, Ryan Mahoney walked, and then scored on a double by Rob Malan into the left center field gap. Two batters later, Ryan Miller’s fielder’s choice groundball out made it 2-0.
Potomac Falls had nine hits for the game. Malan, the team’s senior shortstop, had two doubles from the No. 3 spot in the line-up. Spring, the clean-up batter, had two singles, as did Kline. The other base hits came from Mahoney, Miller and Rubino.