Luke Willis raised his hand in the air as he approached first base, watching the baseball he just tattooed fly over the right-field fence.
“That was the first time I ever hit one where I knew it was gone,” the Oakton junior said. “I’d hit a few [home runs], but I knew that was gone. I just knew it.”
With Oakton leading 8-0 and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth inning, Willis smacked a two-out, opposite field grand slam to give the Cougars a 12-0 mercy-rule victory over Washington-Lee on Saturday at Oakton. Willis, the Cougars’ center fielder, went 2-for-2 with a double, three runs and four RBIs in Oakton’s season opener.
“I think we played real good,” Willis said. “We never let down. We just put it on them the whole game and didn’t stop. We were relentless.”
Sophomore pitcher Ty Prime tossed a two-hit shutout for Oakton, which takes on Falls Church and Washington-Lee this Saturday during a spring break tournament at Woodson.
“We’ve got real high expectations,” Willis said. “Maybe not from the fans’ point of view, but from [the perspective of] our staff and our players. We’ve got a lot of talent on this team. Maybe not the most experience, but a lot of talent.”
<b>WINNING THE SEASON OPENER</b> was huge for an Oakton team that is coming off a 9-11 season in 2009.
“We have a younger team and some players without varsity experience at this point,” said Justin Janis, the Cougars’ second year head coach. “The pitching performance by Ty Prime was outstanding.”
Prime, in the shortened, five inning game, went the distance in the shutout outing. His pitch count was just 54.
“He threw a ton of strikes and kept Washington-Lee off-balance,” said the coach. “Washington-Lee is a good hitting team too. They can swing.”
Willis’ game-ending grand slam was hit to the opposite field over the right field fence.
“It was a well-hit ball and got out pretty quickly,” said Janis.
Willis is just one of two returning starters back from last year’s Oakton team. He was the team’s starting shortstop last year as a sophomore and earned second team All-District honors at that position as well as at designated hitter. This season, Willis was switched to center field position.
“He’s such a good athlete and we’re able to move him around,” said Janis.
Oakton’s other returning starter this spring is senior third baseman Matt Chandler, who was perfect in six fielding chances at the hot corner in Saturday’s win. He, like Willis, earned All-District accolades last year.
As a team in the win over W-L, Oakton accumulated eight hits for the game. The Cougars also ran the bases aggressively, stealing several bases in the game.
Janis likes the look of his team early on.
“We’re a very solid team [batting], one through nine,” he said. “We don’t have any weak spots. We have a young pitching staff but don’t have that one guy everyone in the region is talking about. But guys are throwing strikes and being effective. Defensively we can make the plays.”
This Saturday at the Woodson spring break tournament, the Cougars are scheduled to play Falls Church at 10 a.m., followed by a second early season meeting against Washington-Lee. Both games will take place at Woodson High School.