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Robertson to the Rescue

Ireton beats St. Stephen’s, T.C. pounds Stuart on opening day.

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Senior Dan Nicoll threw six innings of two-hit ball in Bishop Ireton’s season-opening win over St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes this past Saturday.

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St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes senior Whit Mayberry will once again be the ace of the Saints pitching staff.

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T.C. Williams senior Marc Grosser throws a pitch to a Stuart batter during the Titans’ opening day romp past the Raiders.

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Bishop Ireton’s Drew Lichtenberg takes aim at a pitch from St. Stephen/St. Agnes pitcher Whit Mayberry during the Cardinals’ 3-1 win last Saturday.

The baseball record books might need a new statistic considering what Bishop Ireton senior John Robertson did last Saturday in his team’s annual Alexandria showdown with rival St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes.

Or maybe just start calling him the ultimate closer.

Robertson was involved in all of Ireton’s runs during the team’s 3-1 win over the Saints, including a grounder to the shortstop in the bottom of the sixth inning that turned out to be the deciding margin after a two-run error by SSSAS. Then, he made sure his dribbler at the plate stood the test of time, taking the mound in the top of the seventh inning to earn his first save of the season.

The senior also scored Ireton’s lone run before the sixth inning after stealing second and third base following a second-inning single. Starting pitcher Dan Nicoll brought him home with an RBI single.

“They had a real good pitcher and he had been shutting us down all day, so I just wanted to put the ball in play,” said Robertson of his last at-bat. “I was fortunate they didn’t make the play.”

Nicoll and the Saints’ Whit Mayberry went toe-to-toe on the mound on a day when a persistent drizzle made conditions less than ideal. Nicoll gave up just two hits and struck out eight over six innings before giving way to Robertson.

<b>THE WIN WAS</b> a reminder of just how good Ireton could be within the always-competitive WCAC this season. Although the Cardinals finished just 13-13 last year, they made a deep run all the way to the WCAC Tournament finals, upsetting nationally ranked Paul VI in the process.

And with about 75 percent of its innings pitched from a season ago returning, Ireton has dreams of taking the conference title and making a run at the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association state title later this spring.

“Once we got back to practice this year, we’ve just taken off from where we ended last year,” said Nicoll, who is committed to play for Hampton-Sydney College next season.

One stumbling block for the Cardinals could be the graduation of the entire heart of their batting order from a season ago. Ireton hit just .250 as a team and scored about six runs per game. Second-year coach Matt Gallagher is counting on the senior duo of leadoff hitter and center fielder C.K. Kraft and 2008 2nd-team all-WCAC second baseman Frank Zare (.327 batting average last season) to provide some pop. But even the coach admits his team is “gonna play a lot of games like we did against SSSAS.”

“I think we’re better at this point this year than we were at this point last year,” said Gallagher. “Whether we’ll be better at the end of this year than we were last year, I don’t know. But … we’re way ahead of the learning curve.”

<b>IN ANY OTHER LEAGUE</b>, St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes would have probably been champion last season. The Saints racked up a 20-6 record, losing just three games in conference, but that was only good enough for second place in the IAC. Two of those conference defeats, though, were to last year’s IAC juggernaut, St. Alban’s, who lost just two games all year en route to an undefeated conference championship.

Ten players graduated from last year’s squad, but coach Jim Supple believes he’s got a strong crop of seniors and juniors ready to take the mantle and take over where St. Alban’s left off.

Led by their University of Virginia-bound ace Mayberry, shortstop Gerard Taylor, and an assortment of talented juniors, Supple believes days like Saturday should be few and far between once again.

“I do think we’ve reloaded,” he said. “The first thing I told them after the game is remember this feeling. Certainly you want to be on the winning side of things, but we battled to the end.”

<b>OVER AT SIMPSON FIELD</b>, the T.C. Williams baseball got its season going under the direction of aptly named first-year coach Andrew Simpson. The Titans dominated Stuart, 11-1, behind a sharp four-inning pitching performance from starter Marc Grosser.

The senior loaded the bases on three walks in the first inning but recovered to strike out nine and yield just one Raider hit.

After taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning thanks to catcher Robert Mannel’s RBI single, the Titans exploded for six runs in the third. Sophomore third basemen Darwin Alcantara’s two-run triple and back-to-back doubles by sophomores Will Rossi and Trav Clark highlighted the surge.

The Titans take the field again Wednesday, after the Gazette Packet’s deadline.