The Potomac Falls High baseball team, which has already won district and region titles this postseason, is now looking to gain a state championship.
The Panthers (21-3), who defeated Orange County High in the Region II title game last week, opened up the Virginia State AA playoffs with a quarterfinals home game versus Grafton (Yorktown) on Tuesday. (See game write-up at connectionnewspapers.com, Cascades Sports). A win there would advance Potomac Falls to the state semifinals this Friday at Radford University.
This marks the first state playoff appearance for the Panthers since 2003. That season, Potomac Falls was runner-up in the region and had to travel for a first round state playoff game at Tabb High School in the Tidewater area. The Panthers won that game before losing to Stuarts Draft High in the state semis.
Two years before that, Potomac Falls, after finishing second in the region, won a state playoff game at Powhatan High before seeing its season end at the semifinals with a loss to Heritage (Lynchburg).
As good as those Potomac Falls teams were, this year’s squad is likely better, according to longtime Potomac Falls coach Joe Terango. Those teams of ’03 and ’01 had outstanding team chemistry, just as this year’s squad does. Also, those teams, like the ’09 Panthers, had outstanding pitching and defense.
The elements that differentiate this year’s team from those past Potomac Falls state playoff squads is hitting and a deeper starting pitching staff. This year’s Panthers can hit the baseball with the best of them.
"This team can hit the heck out of the baseball," said Terango.
The coach said his team deserves all the accolades it receives this spring.
"The kids have done it all," said Terango, whose team defeated Broad Run in the Dulles District finals two weeks ago. "They are determined, hard working and have a lot of chemistry. We’re proud of every one of them."
<b>IN POTOMAC FALLS’</b>> region finals game at Orange last week, the Panthers were playing in front of an energetic home crowd of up to 800 people. Orange High, located just outside of Charlottesville, is a member of the Jefferson District.
"It’s the kind of environment we like to play in, but we were a little nervous at first," said Terango, of playing on the road against a vocal, spirited crowd. "I told them, ‘This is why you decided to play for Potomac Falls baseball — to play in games like this.’"
Behind outstanding pitching from starter Mike Detaranto and reliever Eric Dimsey, and a breakout top of the seventh inning on offense, the Panthers defeated Orange County, 5-1, for the program’s first-ever region title.
Detaranto, a senior right hander, missed most of the season with arm troubles, but has returned to help the Panthers this postseason. Terango had him on a 40-pitch count against Orange, which meant he could not go deep into the game. But Detaranto gave the Panthers 3-1/3 strong innings of one-run baseball.
"He’s been our consistent No. 2 starter since he was a sophomore," said Terango. "He’s had injuries this season. But we decided he was ready to start [against Orange]. He’s a senior and he deserved a start."
The score was 1-1 when Detaranto departed. Dimsey, a senior lefthander, entered the game and tossed shutout ball the remainder of the game to earn the win.
Terango said Jake Kline (9-1), the team’s No. 1 starting pitcher who earned accolades this spring as both Dulles District and Region II Player of the Year, was available to come in if the situation had warranted late in the ball game.
Potomac Falls scored four runs in the top of the seventh to break a 1-1 tie. Key RBI base hits in the inning came from senior catcher Mike Spring and third baseman Matt Rubino. Potomac Falls’ first run earlier in the game had come on an RBI single from first baseman Ryan Miller.
Through the first six innings, Potomac Falls’ hitters had mostly struggled against Orange’s talented No. 1 starting pitcher, who had the Panthers waving at curve balls out of the strike zone. But Terango encouraged his players to stay patient at the plate and not swing at pitches that fell out of the strike zone. In the seventh, Potomac Falls got it going at the plate.
"He had been throwing a lot of curve balls in the dirt," said Terango, of the Orange pitcher. "In the seventh, his pitches were staying up more and we got him."
In the bottom of the seventh, Orange, trailing 5-1, got one base runner aboard, but that was it as Dimsey finished the game to earn the win in relief.
Potomac Falls, in its previous game, had also won by a 5-1 score over Western Albemarle (Crozet) in a region semifinals game.
Terango, earlier this week, said Kline, the team’s pitching ace, would be on the hill for the first round state playoff game against Grafton. Kline, along with his 9-1 record, carries a 1.56 ERA. In 65 innings of work this season, he has struck out 90 hitters.